When Making Crab Cakes, Don't Underestimate The Power Of Mustard

For Marylanders, digging into a batch of freshly-caught blue crabs coated in Old Bay Seasoning is nothing short of a spiritual experience. There's never a short supply of crab meat coming in from the Chesapeake Bay, so it's only natural that Maryland crab cakes became a popular delicacy. According to Mashed recipe developer Erin Johnson, who grew up in the area and knows the legendary recipe well, making crab cakes at home is a delightfully-simple task. The only tricky part can be finding reasonably-priced lump crab meat, but the other ingredients are easily accessible. As with all simple recipes, each ingredient is important, and one of the most vital might surprise you. Be sure not to skip out on the mustard, as it gives crab cakes a pleasant kick of spice that nicely complements the other sweet and briny flavors.

In her crab cake recipe, Johnson combines the sweetness of mayonnaise with savory Worcestershire sauce and sets those flavors off with the sharpness of mustard. While some recipes call for yellow mustard, Dijon has a distinct flavor intensity that packs more complexity into each bite. Yellow mustard is vinegar-based and tastes mellow in comparison to Dijon, which is made with a mixture of white wine and vinegar. This adds depth to crab cakes, and its sharp, pungent taste pairs well with the creamy mayo. The mustard in these homemade crab cakes also comes in handy when it's time to season the mixture with Old Bay.

Mustard acts as a binder to lock in spices

When it comes to cooking things like pork shoulder, brisket, or ham, using a mustard rub on the meat crust is an excellent way to bind spices to the surface; the mustard adheres to the meat, keeping it tender and flavorful as it cooks. Mustard works similarly in crab cake recipes. When you mix it with the mayonnaise and egg, which are also great binders, you create an emulsion that the Old Bay Seasoning will easily combine with when blended alongside the crab meat. "The easiest mistake," says Erin Johnson, "is to over mix or rough mix the crab meat so that you break up the lumps of meat." It's important to get the mustard and other ingredients in all of the nooks and crannies, as long as you're gentle enough with it to preserve the texture.

Once all of the ingredients are combined, the crab cake mixture is formed into patties and fried in butter until golden. When you take the first bite, it will be apparent why Dijon mustard is such an important element in the recipe. Classic Maryland crab cakes marry several different mouthwatering tastes together, each one balancing the other to form the perfect result. In case you choose to make a huge batch, Johnson says it's perfectly fine to freeze them as uncooked patties to be quickly fried up whenever the hunger hits.