Every summer, I challenge myself to tweak the ingredients of a favorite recipe for crab cakes. My goal: to return to a basic recipe that allows the crabmeat to shine rather than masking it with too many seasonings, all competing for attention.

A pound of jumbo lump crab has been my jumping-off point; its large and pearly pieces of meat, snowy and sweet, always entice.

But this year, reality intervened. The price of jumbo lump meat began to crawl higher and higher. I needed a stand-in.

So I turned to backfin, much more reasonably priced. But to meet my taste standards, it needed a slightly different set of supporting ingredients — a recipe that would not disappoint.

The key elements for binding the backfin turned out to be good-quality (not cottony) homestyle white bread processed into soft crumbs, along with a whole egg, an egg yolk and a few dollops of mayonnaise. Dry cracker crumbs, I learned, made for a dense mixture and masked the flavor of the crab; the soft bread brought the smaller pieces of crab together without drawing out their essential sweetness. A touch of prepared mustard and a sprinkling of parsley rounded out the taste profile. Refrigerating the mixture before pan-frying is essential to meld the components.

Freshly cooked and gleaming, cakes made with backfin crab are not only a suitable replacement; they’re a star of the table.

Summer Crab Cakes

(Lisa Yockelson)

Backfin crabmeat creates cakes with a tighter composition due to the smaller pieces of crab. You can splurge on jumbo lump crabmeat, which will make spectacular cakes.

MAKE AHEAD: The uncooked crabcakes need to be refrigerated (to set up) for at least 2 hours and up to 4 hours.

Makes 5 large crab cakes

  • 1 pound backfin crabmeat, picked over to remove cartilage
  • 3/4 cup fresh white bread crumbs
  • 5 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
  • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
    1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour

Combine the crabmeat and bread crumbs in a large mixing bowl. Toss lightly.

Thoroughly combine the mayonnaise, mustard, parsley, whole egg, egg yolk, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add the mayonnaise mixture to the crabmeat mixture and mix to combine.

Form the crabmeat mixture into 5 equal-size cakes. Place on a baking sheet or flat plate, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 4 hours.

To pan-fry the crab cakes, heat the oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Line a plate with paper towels.

Remove the plastic wrap from the crab cakes. Sift about half the flour over the crab cakes, lightly dusting each one. Carefully place each crab cake floured-side down in the skillet and cook until golden on the underside, about 4 minutes. While the cakes are cooking, sift flour over each one. Using a spatula, gently turn the crab cakes over and cook for another 4 minutes.

Transfer the crab cakes to the plate. Serve immediately, with lemon wedges.