A good crab cake is hard to find. The more crab, the better. But also: The more crab, the more likely it is to fall apart. And when it falls apart, all you’re left with is an unshapely, buttery, Old Bay-y crab and salty cracker mixture…
Wait, why is this a bad thing?
A crab cake that has fallen to pieces may not be on purpose, but it can be reborn as many other meals. You could scoop it up with more crackers. Spread it on toast. Fold it into a quesadilla. Roll it into sushi. Or, my favorite, toss it with hot pasta.
In fact, you could skip the Oh no! My crab cakes are ruined! part altogether, and fast-forward right to making crab pasta. It’s a dinner that feels special enough for a birthday or date night, but is just about impossible to mess up.
Here’s how it comes together:
Sautéed vegetables. Onion and celery are classic in a crab cake. In this recipe, we’ll ditch the onions and swap in two other alliums: scallions and leeks. I love their bright colors and grassy flavors.
Jumbo lump crab meat. This is even chunkier than lump crab meat, which means by the time you’re done tossing the pasta, you’ll still end up with lots of big pieces. That said, it’s also more expensive — so if you want to opt for lump instead, that works, too. Just toss extra carefully.
Short-shaped pasta. Short-shaped pasta is ideal for lots of mix-ins (versus, say, a saucy marinara you’d ladle on spaghetti). It could be farfalle, rigatoni, penne, you name it. As for me? I love the shells’ beachy vibe and the way they hug the crab.
Old Bay sauce. The ingredients for this no-cook sauce are plucked straight out of a crab cake recipe: mayonnaise, Old Bay, Dijon mustard, and Worcestershire. (Psst: Keep this on call as a dip for roasted shrimp cocktail.)
Buttery Saltines. Smashed crackers are used as a binder in crab cakes. Here, they’re going to be a crunchy-crumbly garnish. You could just break up some Saltines on top — of course, this would be good. But what’s even better is if you break up the saltines into a hot, buttery skillet, and let them get golden and extra-crispy.
Serve this with an extremely cold bottle of white wine. And if you can find a way to eat it outside, even better.
Crab Pasta With Old Bay & Saltines
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 leek, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
3 scallions, thinly sliced (both the white and green parts)
1 pinch kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 pound jumbo lump crab meat, drained as much as possible
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
1/2 pound short-shaped pasta (such as shells, rigatoni, farfalle, or penne)
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Old Bay
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire
10 Saltine crackers
1/4 cup finely chopped chives
1. Set a large pot of water, covered with a lid, on the stove to come to a boil.
2. Add 2 tablespoons butter to a very large skillet over medium heat. When the butter has melted and the skillet is hot, add the prepped celery, leek, and scallion. Sprinkle with a big pinch of salt and stir to coat all the vegetables in the butter. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to brown.
3. Once the vegetables are tender, push them toward the perimeter of the pan, so there’s a big empty circle in the center. Add another 1 tablespoon butter to melt. Now add the crab meat and sprinkle with salt. Cook the crab meat for about 4 minutes, until it’s just starting to brown in places, flipping halfway through. Pour 1 tablespoon lemon juice on top of the vegetables and crab, then gently stir to incorporate. Turn off the heat.
4. Is the water boiling? Great. Season it generously with salt (I estimate 1 tablespoon kosher salt per 1 quart of water). Add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until al dente.
5. While the pasta cooks, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Crush the Saltines with your hands, then add to the butter. Toss to coat. Toast the Saltine crumbs for about 3 minutes, or until golden-brown. Sprinkle with salt.
6. Now, combine the mayo, Old Bay, Dijon, Worcestershire, and remaining 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in a big bowl. Taste and adjust the seasoning accordingly.
7. When the pasta is done, reserve ½ cup or so of pasta water, then drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the bowl with the Old Bay sauce, give a quick toss, then add the crab-vegetable mixture, about half the chopped chives, and a tablespoon of reserved pasta water. Gingerly toss again, taking care not to break up the crab lumps. (Does it need more pasta water to loosen up? Add a small splash if so.)
8. Serve immediately, with the fried Saltines and remaining chives sprinkled on top.