There was a time in my life that I vowed to never make a crab cake again. It may seem dramatic, but after three months of finding myself elbow deep in crab meat and mayonnaise nearly every day, this tropical dish began to quickly lose its appeal. When I was 19, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew food had to somehow be involved. So I decided trying on the life of a line cook for a summer would perhaps give me some clarity in the career path department. So, when many of my classmates were seeking out internships with accounting firms or hotel chains, I marched right up to a recruiter from a resort in Pensacola, Florida and asked for a culinary internship. He laughed at me. But gave me an interview anyway. And thus began one of my life’s big adventures. I remember the anticipation I felt when driving away from everything and everyone I knew. I was intoxicated with dreams of what that summer would hold for me. I felt adventurous and brave, like a character in a book… then my parents dropped me off and I cried. I suddenly realized that I was alone, over 1,000 miles away from my comfort zone, about to start a job that I had no idea how to do. It was the scariest thing I had ever gotten myself into. But quite an adventure nonetheless.
I worked long hours, and came home exhausted. I scrubbed the kitchen floor at night and washed the dishes. I made about a billion chocolate lava cakes and have the battle scars from the oven to prove it. And then there were the crab cakes. Crab cakes became the bane of my existence that summer. The recipe was long and tedious, involving numerous steps. I had to pilfer through crab meat to pick out shells and bones. I had to mince onions and jalapenos until my eyes watered. And I had to mix everything with copious amounts of mayo. Oh how I hated the smell of that utility sized mayo jar. And then I had to freeze these perfectly shaped cakes until they were just firm enough to dredge in panko breadcrumbs.
So there were definitely times I wondered what I was doing down there. Especially when I found myself shivering in the walk in freezer, checking crab cakes for proper temperature while wearing my chef coat which fit more like a dress on my 4’11 frame. It was, without a doubt, the most random internship a 19 year old from a small town in Michigan could have. But an offhand comment one of my coworkers gave me seemed to make sense of my tendency to wander the path less traveled. “You’re not like anyone else, you know,” he said “You don’t fit in, but you don’t try to. And that is your biggest strength. Your parents did a good job on you.” IThat summer I learned that the life of a line cook was not for me, but still today when I find myself wondering where I’ll end up, I think about his simple statement. It somehow always reminds me where I’m going, and how I’m going to get there in my own way.
And that is the reason, my crazy random internship holds such a high place in my heart. This was the place I tried scallops, and roast duck, and tomato confit for the first time. This was the place I learned to properly chop an onion, to make beurre blanc, and to trim conch meat. This was the place that reaffirmed that I am meant to stay with my Midwesterm roots, but that I was capable of stepping outside my comfort zone. But most of all this was the summer that proved I’ll never be like anyone else, and that is the way it should be.
So despite my former declaration that I would never make another crab cake. I decided, after a three year break it was time to try again, in honor of that one crazy summer. My recipe is adapted from a Cooking Light recipe and thus requires far less mayo than the crab cakes of my past. This recipe is very light and surprisingly easy. I served mine with a simple salad of spinach, fresh mango and mozzarella & red onions.
Ingredients: Makes 9 crab cakes
- 1/3 cup finely diced red pepper
- 1/4 cup finely diced red onion
- 3-4 finely diced scallions
- 2 tablespoons canola mayo
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 egg white
- 1 pound lump crab meat
- 1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1/3 cup italian breadcrumbs
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- lemon pepper, to taste
- 1 additional cup panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons olive oil