Award-Winning Crab Cakes


Crab Cakes

  • 1 pound shelled cooked crab (about 2 3/4 cups)
  • 1 3/4 cups Panko (Japanese dried bread crumbs) or other dried bread crumbs, divided
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped green onions (including green tops)
  • Tarragon Aïoli (see notes)
  • About 1/2 cup vegetable oil, divided
  • Champagne cabbage salad

Tarragon Aïoli

  • 2 large eggs
  •  3 cloves peeled garlic
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup safflower or canola oil
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp hot sauce
  • lemon juice to taste
  • salt to taste

Champagne Cabbage Salad:

  • 1 head green cabbage
  • Sea salt
  • 1 bunch chives finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup Champagne vinegar


The point of a crab cake is pure crab flavor, not filler, according to Nicholas Petti, chef-owner of Mendo Bistro in Fort Bragg. He won the Mendocino Crab & Wine Days Crab Cake cook-off in 2002, 2003 and 2014 with these simple cakes. The winning wine with crab at the first competition, a Handley Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, is perfect with them. As a shortcut for the tarragon aïoli – or if you’re concerned about eating raw eggs – substitute 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise mixed with 1/4 cup chopped fresh tarragon, 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons minced garlic, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and hot sauce and salt to taste. Start the cabbage salad first, then make the aïoli and crab cakes. This recipe was featured in the January 2014 issue of Sunset Magazine.

Crab Cake Preparation

Sort through crab; remove and discard any bits of shell. In a bowl, combine crab, 3/4 cup panko, and green onions. Gently mix in 3/4 cup tarragon aioli just until mixture holds together.

Press mixture firmly into eight equal patties about 3 inches wide; set slightly apart on waxed paper or foil. Pour remaining panko into a shallow bowl.

Preheat oven to 200° F. Pour  1/3 cup oil into a large frying pan over medium-high heat. When hot, set each crab cake in panko. Using a slotted spatula, turn, pressing gently to coat.

Fry cakes in small  batches, using more oil as needed, until golden brown on the bottom, 2 to 4 minutes; turn gently and cook until browned on the other side and hot in the middle, 2 to 4 minutes longer. Transfer cakes as cooked to a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer and keep warm in oven. Discard any remaining panko.

Divide cabbage salad among plates. Set crab cakes next to salad, top each with a dollop of tarragon aioli, and serve immediately, with remaining aïoli in a bowl.

Aïoli Preparation

In food processor, or blender, place all ingredients up to Tabasco, and run machine. Pour in hot water and process for 15 seconds.

With machine running, slowly drizzle in oil until a mayonnaise consistency is reached. Stir in chopped tarragon.

Cabbage Salad Preparation

Remove outer leaves and core from cabbage and slice thinly. Toss with a liberal amount of salt and let sit for 30 minutes. Drain off liquid from cabbage and add chives and vinegar.


Sauvignon Blanc

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