Baked Crab Cakes with Spicy Avocado Sauce

I will be the first to admit that I haven’t eaten enough crab cakes in my life.  And it’s not because I don’t like them; it’s more like I have this irrational fear of them.  That does sound a bit odd now that I’ve actually put it out there, but crab cakes seem like something of a caloric commitment, you know?  I sort of have this aversion to ordering a crab cake, knowing full well that it’s been fried, and then too often it’s rather heavy, possibly even greasy with very little actual flavor and not crabby enough (which makes me a little crabby).  But then if they’re not fried, well, they tend to fall apart and be a little dry and lack flavor and aren’t really very interesting, and so one just moves on to other things.

Well, to my credit, I thought this recipe from Gourmet had promise.  I mean, panko breadcrumbs might keep these crunchy, and sautéing the panko first might give them good color and flavor, but the real test was whether they would hold together and how they tasted….even without that spicy avocado sauce. 

Assembling the crab cakes was way easier than I thought it was going to be.  After a little tweaking to the recipe (not mixing panko in with the crab and adding an egg), they held together quite well, passing the first test no problem.  We ate them while they were still warm from the oven, and yes, they were wonderful.  Delightful little things, really… crispy and crunchy on the outside; moist and very crabby on the inside; lots of flavor from the Dijon mustard, lemon and scallions; and definitely not heavy or greasy.   And oh, that spicy avocado sauce was heavenly with them.

It feels pretty darn good to think that I have one less thing to fear in life.  I’m happy to report that me and crab cakes are cool with each other again.   Here’s the recipe….

Baked Crab Cakes with Spicy Avocado Sauce

Click here for a printable recipe

Adapted from Gourmet

Yield: Makes 4 main-course or 8 appetizer servings

For sauce

1 ripe medium California avocado, peeled and pitted

1 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (may need more)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 chopped Serrano or jalapeno pepper

¼ cup milk (optional)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

For crab cakes

1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, picked over and coarsely shredded

3 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise

1 egg, beaten

1/4 cup minced fresh chives or scallions

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 garlic cloves, smashed

2 – 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 teaspoon salt

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with foil.

Make sauce:

Pulse avocado with mayonnaise, lime juice, salt, and one half of the chile in a food processor until chile is finely chopped.  Taste and add more chile if desired.  If you would like to thin the sauce, add a little milk and purée until smooth. Stir in the chopped cilantro and transfer sauce to a bowl and chill, covered.

Make crab cakes:

Gently stir together crabmeat, mayonnaise, egg, chives or scallions, lemon juice, mustard, and pepper in a large bowl until combined.  Form into 4 or 8 patties, cover and chill for about an hour.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium nonstick skillet over moderate heat, then cook garlic, stirring, until golden and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the salt, and panko and cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Transfer crumbs to a plate to cool. Discard garlic. Stir in the chopped cilantro.

Carefully turn each chilled patty in the crumb mixture to coat top and bottom. Transfer to a baking sheet and repeat with remaining mounds, then sprinkle remaining crumbs on top of crab cakes. Bake until heated through, about 15 minutes. Serve crab cakes with sauce.

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