The Shrimp Trick To Keep Your Crab Cakes From Falling Apart

Homemade crab cakes never fail to impress. If you use quality ingredients, the biggest problem you may face is keeping the cakes from falling apart. Most crab cake recipes include fillers like bread crumbs or potatoes as well as binders like eggs. These tend to reduce the flavor and you might still find yourself struggling to keep the cakes together long enough to serve them. Lan Lam of America's Test Kitchen used an especially tasty ingredient that helps solve this issue without diluting the sweet, seafood taste that crab cake lovers crave. Her recipe uses homemade shrimp purée as a binder.

Since shrimp meat contains so much lean protein, when puréed it forms a paste-like gel. Research and Development Chef Theo Paul explained the process to his friend Robin Mather, who was thinking of using shrimp paste to bind fish cakes (via the Arizona Daily Star). Paul explained that the "...protein strands form new bonds that not only hold water, but cross-link with each other to create a new type of structure, that, when heated, forms an irreversible gel."

The technique to make shrimp paste is similar to that you would use for homemade shrimp toast. Simply clean and de-vein the shrimp and grind it in a food processor or blender. You can also chop and mash it by hand. Lam's method draws inspiration from a French classic and also uses a technique from Thai fish cakes or Tod Mun Goong.

Borrowing classic cooking techniques to enhance your crab cakes

When Lan Lam decided to add shrimp purée to crab cakes, she was inspired by a French dish called Fish Mousselines. The dish was popularized by iconic chef Julia Child who made these little cakes using puréed fish, egg white, and cream. Child said firm-fleshed fish worked best since it has a higher concentration of gelatin.

Fish Mousselines aren't the only culinary tradition using shrimp purée. Thai fish cakes, or Tod Mun Goong, also requires a similar technique. According to the Mark Bittman of the New York Times, the shrimp not only binds but delivers flavor. Bittman says that these cakes can also be made using scallops or other firm white fish, such as Child recommended for her Fish Mousselines. By extension, if you don't like shrimp, you might find that scallops or white fish also work. If you want to keep it crabby, you can also use chilled crab meat to keep your crab cakes from falling apart.

Now that you've mastered crab cakes that hold together, it may be time to turn your attention to other goals, like perhaps the best sauce to serve with those homemade crab cakes.