Cooking Tips

Want Crab Cakes That Won’t Fall Apart? Use Shrimp.

A shrimp mousse makes the best binder—and enhances the crab's natural sweetness.

Published Oct. 29, 2021.

The best crab cakes should taste like crab. (If I’m spending money on jumbo lump crabmeat, you better believe I want to taste it!) The other ingredients in most crab cake recipes—eggs, mayo, and other binders—may hold everything together, but they also mute the crab’s delicate flavor. To keep our crab cakes intact and the crab’s sweetness front and center, we turned to another shellfish: shrimp.

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The idea came to Cook’s Illustrated Senior Editor Lan Lam when she was developing her Best Crab Cakes recipe. Inspired by mousselines—those retro, savory mousses composed mainly of pureed meat or seafood and just a bit of cream—that she used to make in her high-end restaurant days, she figured the same approach would work here: pureeing shrimp and using it to bind the crab cakes.

Sure enough, she found that shrimp is an excellent binder for two reasons:

  1. Proteins are sticky, and since shrimp is mostly muscle, processing it creates a sort of meat glue, adhering to itself and any ingredients added to the mixture. 
  2. Shrimp has a subtle sweetness that lets the clean crabmeat flavor shine through.

Here’s how to make Lan’s “meat glue.” These quantities make enough to bind 1 pound of crabmeat.

  1. Peel, devein, and remove tails from 4 ounces shrimp. (Since the shrimp is pureed, you can use whatever size is cheapest!)
  2. Transfer to food processor and pulse shrimp until finely ground, 12 to 15 pulses.
  3. Add ¼ cup heavy cream and pulse to combine, 2 to 4 pulses, scraping down bowl as needed. 

In addition to the shrimp mousse, Lan found that there was another step required to give the crab cakes structure: chilling them. To do this, place the formed cakes on a lined, rimmed baking sheet. Cover and refrigerate them for 30 minutes before coating them in panko and cooking them.

These crab cakes will exceed your seafood standards. Eat them hot and save the mayo for a rémoulade.

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