Practice makes perfect in restaurant kitchens, and when it comes to the crabcake at the upscale-Southern restaurant Vidalia, that's definitely the case: the dish has been on the menu since the place opened in 1993—and it's still one of the most popular choices. Chef Jeffrey Buben's formula is simple: a pound of fresh Maryland crab that's lightly bound with butter, saltines, and Duke's mayo, and spiced with mustard, Worcestershire, and a dash of Tabasco. Unlike lots of mid-Atlantic crabcakes, you won't find Old Bay in this recipe, because Buben feels the Chesapeake spice can overshadow the sweet, rich crab meat.
Buben shared a few tips for making the perfect crabcake. First, mix the meat with the other ingredients very delicately—overworking it makes for a tougher cake. Second, let the cakes rest in the fridge for at least an hour so the crumbs can absorb liquid and the flavors blend. And finally, set the sauteed rounds on paper towels momentarily before serving them to get a crisp crust. After that, it's back to simple: a squeeze of lemon and maybe some tartar or mustard sauce on the side. The accompaniments have changed often at Vidalia over the years, but the crabcake stays the same.
1 pound Maryland jumbo-lump crab meat (picked and checked for shell or cartilage) from a market such as Whole Foods
8 saltine crackers, crushed
2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon Duke's mayonnaise
1 tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 dash hot-pepper sauce, such as Tabasco
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
In a medium bowl, combine crab meat, saltines, cilantro, salt, and pepper. In a separate bowl, beat together the egg, mayonnaise, butter, mustard, Worcestershire, and hot sauce. Combine that mixture with the crab meat and mix well.
Shape the mixture into 4 crabcakes and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 24.
Heat 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat until the oil is hot. Sauté the crabcakes in batches until golden brown on each side, about a total of 3 to 5 minutes. Set on a paper towel momentarily when they're done.
Serve immediately, garnish with tartar sauce, a mustard buerre blanc, or other mustard-based sauce.