Crabmeat adapts to a range of spices, from sesame seeds to chipotle, especially when shaped into savory cakes and then fried. A generous handful of cilantro—use the leaves and stems—keeps the patties tasting fresh, while a tiny dice of tender bread makes the texture delicate. The soft, rich bread in the center, along with the crab, gets a crunchy coating of panko bread crumbs. These were inspired by the fish kefte (like fish meatballs) of my childhood, the salt cod fritters from my years cooking in France, and the giant batches of crab cakes I’d churn out as the executive chef of Daniel Boulud’s events company. You don’t need to buy lump crabmeat, but you do want to get the freshest possible.
In this master recipe, sesame seeds add a nutty crunch to a spice blend that’s savory with garlic and celery seeds. Aleppo pepper adds just a touch of heat; you can use more if you prefer spicy crab cakes. I like these with aioli on the side.
Crab Cakes with Sesame Seeds and Aleppo Pepper
6 to 8
Lior Lev Sercarz, from "Mastering Spice" by Lior Lev Sercarz
1 teaspoon dried garlic slices (2 grams)
11⁄2 teaspoons coriander seeds (3 grams)
1 teaspoon fennel seeds (2 grams)
1⁄2 teaspoon celery seeds (1 gram)
1⁄2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (1 gram)
11⁄2 teaspoons white sesame seeds, preferably unhulled (5 grams)
Finely grind the garlic, coriander, and fennel together and immediately mix with the whole celery seeds, Aleppo, and sesame seeds.
Extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄2 cup finely diced yellow onion
3/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro (leaves and stems)
Zest of 1 lemon (cut the zested lemon into wedges for serving)
1 pound fresh crabmeat, picked over for shells
1 large egg white
1 cup finely diced crustless challah or brioche
1 cup panko bread crumbs
The Spice Blend
Coat a small skillet with oil (about 1 tablespoon) and set over medium heat. Add the onion, a pinch of salt, and a few pinches of the spice blend. Cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent around the edges but still crunchy, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and cool.
Add the cilantro, lemon zest, and remaining spice blend to the bowl. Gently fold in the crab and egg white; add the bread cubes and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and gently toss to thoroughly mix but not smush the mixture.
Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper. Lightly wet your hands and gently press 1⁄2 ounce (about 3 tablespoons) of the mixture into a round by putting it on the fingers of one hand and using your other thumb and index finger to gently squeeze the edges of the round. While you carefully squeeze the sides, lightly pat the top flat with your other thumb to make a 2-inch patty (about 3⁄4 inch thick). Don’t pack the mixture tightly. Place the shaped patties on the parchment-lined pan.
Place the panko in a shallow dish. Put a patty in the panko and pat the crumbs all over to evenly coat. Return to the lined baking sheet and repeat with the remaining patties.
Fill a large nonstick skillet with grapeseed or other neutral-tasting oil to a depth of 1⁄8 inch and heat over medium-high heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add enough patties to fit in the skillet, spacing 11⁄2 inches apart. Fry until the bottoms are golden brown, about 2 minutes, then flip carefully. Cook until the other side is browned, 5 to 7 minutes longer. You’re not trying to sear the patties so they have a charred crust—you just want them to get some nice color. Serve hot or warm with lemon wedges for squeezing.