Imitation crab cakes are easy to make and a flavorful alternative to using real crab when it is hard to find, or just too expensive.
Imitation crab is my guilty pleasure. Living in the midwestern United States, fresh crab is frequently hard to come by, or prohibitively expensive, so I frequently reach for imitation crab to calm any seafood cravings. My favorite uses for it include imitation crab rolls, imitation crab salad, and these easy crab cakes.
What is Imitation Crab?
Imitation crab is not crab at all. It is primarily made of mild-tasting white fish which are formed together with binders to resemble the look and texture of crab meat.
Imitation Crab Cakes Ingredients
- Imitation crab meat - I find smaller shreds or lumps work best.
- Breadcrumbs - Breadcrumbs are needed to stick to the meat as a binder.
- Eggs - Eggs provide moisture to help bind the cakes together.
- Mayonnaise - Is added for moisture and flavor.
- Dijon mustard - Provides a bright tangy flavor that goes well with dill.
- Dill weed - Use fresh dill.
- Lemon juice - Fresh or bottled is fine.
- Worcestershire sauce - Adds depth to the flavor.
- Hot sauce - This can be omitted if you are heat adverse.
- Sweet paprika - Sweet paprika isn't actually sweet, it has a bit of a kick.
- Ground pepper - I recommend fresh ground.
Imitation vs Regular Crab Cakes
I found making these imitation crab cakes is a little different than making traditional crab cakes with real crab meat. I believe this is because the imitation crab has a firmer and slightly drier texture, making it harder to bind together into cakes. When using fresh crab, such as jumbo lump crab meat from a fresh blue crab to make authentic Maryland crab cakes, you will notice the crab meat is noticeably more moist, which helps the other ingredients bind better. For this reason, imitation crab isn't a perfect substitute, so recipe modifications need to be made.
There were two challenges this presented. First of all, I had to shred the meat to get it to bind properly, whereas traditional crab is best left as larger lumps. Secondly, I had to use more breadcrumbs as a binding agent. In particular, I found panko didn't work very well, so I switched to traditional breadcrumbs for this recipe. In contrast, when using fresh crab meat you want to use as little filler as possible to let the real crab meat shine.
Work in batches as needed. Cooked crab patties can be kept warm by placing them in a single layer on a baking sheet placed in a 200-degree oven. These can be dusted with Old Bay seasoning or served with your favorite kind of sauce.
How to make them
These can be quickly whipped up for an easy lunch. All of the ingredients get mixed together in a large mixing bowl. I tear the imitation crab into chunks initially and keep breaking it smaller after all ingredients are added until they hold their shape when formed into cakes. Form the imitation crab mixture into ½" thick patties.
Using wax paper will make transferring the crab cakes into your hot skillet easier, but it isn't required. I form the cakes directly on the wax paper then set them upside-down in a large skillet. The breading burns easily, so I cook them on medium-low heat, and using a little cooking oil will form a better crust. Cook them for three minutes per side, or until golden brown and heated through.
Imitation Crab Cakes
- 1 pound imitation crabmeat (flaked)
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
- 2 eggs
- 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon chopped dill weed
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce
- ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon sweet paprika
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- vegetable oil (as needed)
- Add all ingredients, with the exception of cooking oil, to a large bowl and mix to combine.
- Test how well the cakes hold together by squeezing some of the mixture in your hand. If they don't hold their shape shred the imitation crab meat into smaller pieces.
- Form into patties ½" thick. Setting them on wax paper is optional, but makes transfering to a skillet easier.
- Heat skillet to medium-low and add a drizzle of cooking oil. Cook crab cakes approximately 3 minutes per side. Work in batches and add more cooking oil as needed.
- Place cooked crab cakes on a baking sheet in a 200 degree oven to keep warm in nessesary while you finish the remaing batches.
- Serve these delicious crab cakes hot with your choice of sauce.