Maryland Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes
Updated: Oct 21, 2022
I might have a problem! If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you've likely noticed my incessant need to shoehorn movie references into every story. It’s kinda my gimmick. Only I’m starting to think my schtick is creeping into my real life. The other day I was flipping through channels and stopped on the original Predator; the scene right before Dutch is about to get his ass kicked. Just as the alien hunter dramatically drops his mask revealing his ugly crustacean-like mug for the first time, Arnold says “you are one ugly Mother F&%Ker.” Meanwhile, cut to me on the couch with a cheese doodle stuck to my cheek and I'm thinking “damn, I bet that would make a good crab cake!”
I'm talking about one of those ginormous jumbo lump bad boys you get in Baltimore!
Maryland Crab Cakes
Long before Europeans started forming backfin meat, mayo and breadcrumb into cakes, indigenous people were fishing the Chesapeake Bay for crabs well aware of their prized salty sweet meat. Nowadays crab cakes are ubiquitously found on menus across the country but that wasn’t always the case. The original settlers to the New World, at least the ones that weren't starving, looked at crab and lobster as poor man's food.
By the end of the nineteenth century however, crabs became a cheap local delicacy available in most port towns across the East Coast, especially in Maryland where the supply of blue claw crabs was plentiful. Takeout stands selling cakes, deviled crabs and crab boils became the norm, feeding residents along the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. According to websites like box hill crabs and Shop Local Delmarva it wasn’t until the 1939 though that crab cakes entered the national lexicon when Crosby Caige, a notable foodie of his era, introduced the recipe for “Baltimore Crab Cakes” in his book titled New York World’s Fair Cookbook. This is widely considered to be the first mass publication of the regional recipe. As a result, its popularity grew.
So, Who Makes the Best?
I have a pretty bad habit of deeming something "the best in the world". I obviously haven't tried every crab cake made let alone in Maryland, but I can only tell you this, The Single Greatest Thing That I've Eaten from 2010-2020 was the Jumbo Lump Cake Cake Sandwich (above) from Faidley's Seafood at the Lexington Market in Baltimore. This culinary specimen is made with the sweetest lump crab and a subtle mix of deli mustard, mayo and, I am assuming Saltines. The cake is 95% crab and gently formed into baseball sized mounds before being fried to a delicate crisp. It's that type of first bite that makes you look around to see if anyone else is experiencing the same euphoria as you with the crab being the undeniable star of the show. Faidley's started in 1886 and continues to be run by descendants of the founder.
Maryland is flush with restaurants famous for their own recipe of crab cakes. But Phillips, with their huge red neon sign on the Harborfront may be the best-known outside of the state. They have been making delicious crab cakes since 1956 when they first opened their restaurant in Ocean City. (sadly no longer there) They have extended their brand with "Express" outposts located in 7 airports including Newark, Charlotte and Atlanta and even have one at a rest stop along Interstate 95. But if you can't make it to one of those, Phillips sells their frozen cakes in grocery stores throughout the country. Not exactly what you'd get in the restaurant, but a quick fix when you are jonesing for the real thing.
Crabigenous and Other Crab Cakes...
According to The Spruce Eats, there are over 4,400 different types of crabs but only a few that are edible. Note- the article does not confirm if the predator is one. The Dungeness Crab native to the Pacific West Coast have a sweet delicate flavor and can be found in crab cake form often rolled in panko. Also be on the lookout for the Stone Crab Cake sometimes found in the Keys and Miami. Even the Alaskan King Crab can be made into a delicious albeit expensive cake, but at over $90 per lb. I might caution you. If you've yet to try a crab cake, I urge you to get down to Maryland and try the OG, you won't regret it.