I have a passion for seafood cakes of any variety: Dungeness crab cakes, shrimp cakes, fresh or smoked salmon cakes, and varieties yet untried. They are easy to make, but many a fine cook errs by adding too much binder. You want to taste the seafood and the seasoning, not what is holding them together–bread crumbs typically.
A trick I learned early on when trying to create a seafood cake with only a small amount of binder that would still hold together reasonably well, is to use the gelatinous binding power of the seafood itself where possible. Raw prawns, scallops and salmon all have this gelatinous property. It is maximized when the seafood is pureed.
However, because we still want tantalizing chunks of seafood in our cakes and because it only takes a small amount of protein binder to ensure a cake that will hold together, I suggest pureeing only 1/3 of the seafood and then chopping the rest. You can puree as little as ¼ of the seafood if you prefer. The cakes will still hold together.
Note The more of the seafood that you puree, the denser your cake will be (unless you also add a lot of cream and then it becomes a mousse). So easy does it.
Most seafood cakes I have sampled at restaurants are, well, uninspired. I understand the dilemma. You don’t want to overpower the flavor of the seafood. But if the auxiliary flavors are in harmony with the chosen seafood, it can be surprising how bold those accompanying notes can be, while still allowing the flavor of the seafood to hold center stage. Dungeness Crab in Black Bean Sauce comes to mind. How can that possibly work? My mind tells me the combination should obliterate the crab and yet my palate informs me the dish is spectacular.
These seafood cakes are NOT boring. This flavor composition creates a small explosion on the palate, and you will find it difficult to eat only one or two, even though they are quite rich.
Much to my delight, since I was feeding only myself and MauiJim, the cakes held up very well in the refrigerator even after sautéing. On the second and even the third night, I simply heated a few gently in the microwave before serving. The flavor actually improved and the coating suffered only marginally.
Curried Seafood Cakes with Fresh Ginger Aioli
You can make these delectable, succulent seafood cakes in first course size or appetizer size. If you want to serve them as a main course, serve two of the larger cakes to each diner. The curry and lime flavor here is particularly wonderful with prawns.
Purchasing Note For the seafood, purchase about ¼ pound additional to allow for removal of shells, skin, and so on. You need one usable pound of whichever seafood you choose.
Seafood: Choose One Only
1 pound, shelled, deveined raw prawns, 2/3 coarsely chopped, 1/3 pureed in processor
1 pound fresh cooked crabmeat, cartilage removed
1 pound skinned, fatty dark flesh removed, boned, fresh salmon, 2/3 coarsely chopped, 1/3 pureed in processor
¾ pound fresh salmon, prepared as described above, combined with ¼ pound cold-smoked (Nova-style) salmon, finely chopped in a processor
1 pound trimmed (small side muscles removed) scallops, 2/3 coarsely chopped, 1/3 pureed in processor
1½ tablespoons best-quality curry powder (preferably Madras brand)
finely grated zest of 1 large lime
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dry mustard (preferably Coleman brand)
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon cayenne (this is mildly hot, increase by ¼ teaspoon if you prefer more heat)
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup minced onion
½ cup minced celery
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon pressed or finely minced garlic
¼ cup best-quality mayonnaise (preferably homemade or Best Foods brand)
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ cup dry bread crumbs (Japanese Panko work well here)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup very fine, dry bread crumbs (Japanese Panko work well here)
vegetable oil, for sautéing
Fresh Ginger Aioli (recipe below)
slices of fresh lime
- Clean and prepare your choice of seafood as described above.
- To prepare Curry-Lime Seasoning, in a small bowl combine curry powder, cumin, dry mustard, cayenne, and cardamom. Reserve.
- In a large sauté pan, melt the butter and sauté the onions over low heat until barely tender but not browned.
- Add celery, fresh ginger, and garlic, and continue cooking over low heat onions and celery are tender.
- Stir in Curry-Lime Seasoning and continue cooking for a few minutes.
- Remove from the heat, and cool to room temperature.
- In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and mayonnaise until smooth. Add the onion mixture, seafood, and bread crumbs. Mix thoroughly to combine.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour to firm the mixture.
- Shape the seafood cakes into 12 (3 tablespoons each) or 16 (2 tablespoons each) disks, each about ¾-inch thick. Dredge the cakes in dry bread crumbs, place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, and refrigerate until ready to sauté and serve.
- In a large skillet, using medium-high heat, heat vegetable oil at a depth of ½-inch until a drop of water sizzles briskly when sprinkled into the oil.
- Put as many seafood cakes as will fit comfortably in the pan and sauté until nicely browned on both sides, about 3 minutes per side.
- Remove the cooked cakes to a paper towel-lined baking tray, keep warm in a 200º oven, and continue cooking the remainder of the cakes.
- Remove the seafood cakes to individual plates or to a platter, garnish with Fresh Ginger Aioli and slices of fresh lime, and serve.
Makes 12-16 cakes, depending on whether 2-tablespoon or 3-tablespoon size.
Fresh Ginger Aioli
1 cup best-quality mayonnaise (preferably homemade or Best Foods brand)
2 teaspoons finely minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon pressed or finely minced garlic
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
fine sea salt, to taste
- In a small bowl, combine all ingredients.
- Refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve.
Makes 1 cup.
LunaCafe’s Garam Masala
Garam Masala, the basic spice blend of Northern India, is a blend of hot or warm spices. The heat refers not only to the spicy hot flavor but also to the effect these spices generate in one’s body. This particular Garam Masala, my own special blend, is milder tasting that most curry powders. Coriander and cumin dominate the flavor here.
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1½-inch length cinnamon stick
½ teaspoon whole cloves
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
- Heat a heavy sauté pan and add all of the spices. Dry roast the spices over medium-high heat, stirring and turning constantly, until fragrant, about 4-5 minutes.
- Remove from the heat immediately and pour into a dish to cool
- Using a spice grinder, grind the spices to a powder.
- Store airtight in a cool dry location for up to three months.
Makes ¼ cup.