Born in New Orleans, but having spent my childhood on the coast of Maine, the concept of crab cakes has been a bit conflicting for me.
In New England, crab cakes are prepared as fluffy, cakelike compounds mixed with real New England crabmeat and minimal amounts of heat or spice. The idea is that the crabmeat is built into a “cake” where more common regional ingredients like white wine, garlic and Old Bay Seasoning dominate the flavors of this dish.
Popular in most coastal towns, the New England crab cake is prepared either baked or broiled, and few chefs go to the trouble of pan-frying their cakelike compounds.
But, the longer I live in southern Louisiana, the more I realize this popular course couldn’t be more different than the crab cakes I grew up with.
Louisiana crab cakes are frequently spicier than their New England counterparts and, in many recipes, offer trace amounts of breading or crumbs. Frequently, this dish is held together not by a thick batter (as in New England restaurants or kitchens), but by the personalized touch of a local chef who takes the preparation of this Southern dish seriously.
The presence of spices unique to Cajun or Creole cooking is often dominant within the batter, leaving little room for eggs, breading or crushed Ritz crackers you sometimes see up North.
Last month, I had the opportunity to explore these variances with my visit with Ryan Andre, executive chef at the Baton Rouge restaurant Le Creolé. One of the first things we discussed wasn’t the chef’s tattoo that somehow always makes its appearance into every article about Andre, but the crab cakes he was putting on the grill.
Always available on the restaurant’s specials menu, Le Creolé’s crab cakes are prepared upon ordering.
Andre mans the grill, prepares many of the dishes, and always carefully plates his food even if it means taking an extra few minutes to watch, flip and handle the crab cakes individually before they arrive at customers’ tables.
I watched in astonishment as Andre used an oval-shaped ring to hold each individual cake together until the final moment of plating.
Andre’s crab cakes weren’t premade rounds ready to pop in the broiler, but separately scooped-up patties monitored closely for each table. According to Andre, crab cakes should fall apart the second a fork digs into their structure and reveal the vast amounts of crabmeat used to make the dish. One should be able to see “claw meat sticking up,” he said, and crab cake should be more crab than cake.
For today’s recipe, I take a cue from Andre’s tips and embrace my Southern roots. Made with trace amounts of breading (almost none besides a few tablespoons) and no eggs, these crab cakes require no bread, no broiling, and certainly no Old Bay Seasoning. For sure, these aren’t my mother’s crab cakes, but something a little bit better — Creole-style Crab Cakes inspired by chef Andre.
Helena Brigman is a food writer, photographer and cookbook author. She can be reached with daily recipes at http://clearlydeliciousfoodblog.com or via email at email@example.com