A Crab Cake for All Seasons
Wall Street Journal
September 29, 2006
By CHARLES PASSY
Crabs are traditionally a summertime food, when varieties like the Maryland blue are at their peak. But many diners are eating them year-round in another form: the crab cake.
These patties, made from little more than crab meat, filler (mostly bread crumbs or crackers) and a few spices, have long been a regional favorite in Maryland. Specialty mail-order retailers say that business is up across the country. Chesapeake Bay Crab Cakes & More, a Baltimore company, says it sold five million crab cakes last year, including on the QVC shopping network. Sales have recently been growing 40% annually. Smaller vendors are also finding success: The Crab Place, based in Crisfield, Md., says it has shipped its crab cakes to all 50 states. Annual sales of the product have risen 33%, to about $300,000, in the past year.
While many gourmets rank the Maryland blue crab as the sweetest source for the cake, vendors are substituting imported meat to keep up with year-round demand. "We use as much Maryland meat as we can," says Steve Cohen, chief executive of Astral Foods, the parent company of Chesapeake Bay. Still, he adds that the company supplements crab from sources world-wide. Could a frozen, uncooked mail-order crab cake do the Old Line State justice? We tested the offerings from five online vendors to find out. The cakes all needed to be cooked in the oven or in a frying pan -- the method and cooking times varied slightly with each vendor, but the process was simple enough for all. Then we set the finished products in front of the two toughest judges we could find: Leslie and Kristi, two native Marylanders with plenty of crab-cake experience under their belts.
The Crab Place's entry, at $70 for six, garnered higher marks. "I see the crab!" said Kristi. But there was some debate as to what piece of the crab we were seeing. Leslie thought the recipe relied a little too much on the stringier backfin variety rather than the succulent lump kind, though the meat was still deemed "flavorful."