I’m from a very average, working class background. My parents both worked full-time. They didn’t learn to drive until I was about ten so suddenly having a car was a real luxury. I grew up on good, solid home-cooking. Casseroles, roast dinners, fish fingers, fried eggs, frozen peas.
Seafood wasn’t something we ate very often. Mashed sardines on toast while watching Antiques Roadshow at Sunday teatime. Fish paste sandwiches when my mum had run out of other fillings. Exotic prawn cocktail as a starter if we went to the local Berni Inn restaurant for a family birthday. Occasionally a polystyrene cup of cockles steeped in malt vinegar, purchased from a van in a pub car park we happened to be passing.
My nan always used to prepare her own crab. Rusty, old knife & hammer in hand, shell flying everywhere, she once famously declared “I’ve lived wiv crabs me ‘ole life!” But generally speaking, crab has always seemed a fairly extravagant food to me. Bit posh. Not something I’d buy. Until I discovered tinned crab. Long shelf life, fairly inexpensive, no boiling, no shelling, no faff. Brilliant!
I should probably have a quick word about semolina here. I know this may strike fear into many of you. It sounds weird. The very notion of it may seem utterly rank. But trust me. It was Saint Delia the Smith herself who led me to use it in this way. It makes the crab cakes really super crispy on the outside. I also use it for homemade chicken nuggets. And if we can’t trust Delia, then we really are all doomed.
Anyway, these are definitely not posh. It’s almost a “chuck it all the bowl” recipe. Now we can all have crabs in our lives!
2 tins of white crab meat (I think each tin is approx. 170g)
2 tins of John West dressed crab (tiny tins of brown meat. If you can’t find it, I reckon 2 tbs of crab paste would work just as well)
4 spring onions, v finely chopped
6 tbs semolina (and some extra for coating)
Blob of sweet chilli sauce
Zest of 1 lemon (or a little squirt of bottled lemon juice)
1 heaped tbs tinned sweetcorn (optional)
Freshly chopped parsley or coriander (optional)
A little oil for cooking
This is quite a moist mixture so make sure you drain the white crab meat really well. Give it a good squeeze while it’s still in the tin. You do not want soggy cakes.
It’s also quite a delicate mixture so the spring onions do need to be chopped quite small to help it all hold together.
Put all the ingredients (except the oil and extra semolina) into a bowl and mix well. Try not to mash the white crab meat too much so it keeps a bit of texture. I sometimes add some tinned sweetcorn too because the kids love it.
Now the messy bit; you need to form little patties. If the mixture seems too wet, add a little more semolina until it’s workable but it will be a sticky mixture regardless. Your hands are going to get covered so set yourself up a little system (see picture below) so you haven’t got to fetch things and cover the whole kitchen in goo.
Scoop up some mixture in your hands, make the vague shape you want then put the patty onto the plate of semolina. They are delicate things so be gentle when coating them all over. You should get about eight little cakes with these quantities. My picture only shows seven but my last one was a bit big! Try to keep them the same size if you can so they cook in the same time. Set them aside on a clean plate.
Put a large frying pan on the hob and start heating up your oil. You need it fairly hot so the cakes will be nice and crispy. Fry them for a few minutes until they are golden brown before turning them over. Do NOT poke, prod or fiddle or they will fall apart.
And that’s it. To me, crab is a bit fancy and special but the recipe works just as well with tinned tuna or salmon. They are great served as a starter with some salad and a sweet chilli dip. Or as a main course with rice and stir-fried vegetables.
TOP TIP! If you’ve used fresh lemon zest, keep the lemon for later. You can cut it into wedges to squeeze over your finished dish.