Ask a Baltimore native to order a crab cake outside of Maryland. I dare you. If they’ve any mind to them, they’ll scoff, say you’re being ridiculous, and find something else on the menu. Why? Because like New Yorkers with pizza or Memphians with pork ribs, a true Baltimore native just knows they do it best.
“I would never order a crab cake from another state,” attests Steven Ring, owner of the Blue Point Crab House in Owings Mills, Maryland. A 14-year veteran of the crab house game, Ring has been around long enough to know what separates true Maryland crab cakes from “Maryland crab cakes” sold at restaurants in other states around the country.
“We make about three crab cakes for every pound of crabmeat,” says Ring. “Most out-of-town places will get maybe 15 crab cakes out of a pound of crabmeat. That’s tiny. That’s more like a coddie.”
(For those unfamiliar, a coddie is a deep-fried fish dish emanating from Baltimore that looks like someone took a mallet to a crab cake.)
Ring mixes each pound of meat with two pieces of white bread and a house sauce that includes mayonnaise, whiskey sour, mustard, eggs, seasoning, and a little bit of parsley. Once the cakes have been lumped — large crab cakes are typically about the size of an adult male’s fist — Ring suggests broiling or frying until they’re a golden brown, though it’s not unusual to find crab houses sautéing cakes with a little bit of butter.
As for where that crabmeat comes from, Ring is adamant about picking lumps from native waters.
“Domestic crab meat,” he reaffirms. “The key is making crab cakes with good crabmeat. A lot of people will use cheap crabmeat, Chinese crabmeat or pasteurized crabmeat. It’s got to be domestic.”
Contrary to popular local opinion, domestic doesn’t just mean crabs coming from the Chesapeake Bay. Anything American goes. Ring says that he receives a shipment of crabs from Louisiana in addition to the Maryland crabs that have been coming in since he opened the crab house.
If the meat’s not from around here, Ring’ll notice. On a recent trip to Brennan’s Restaurant in New Orleans, he ordered the redfish with lump crabmeat only to find a fish stuffed with foreign meat.
“I asked the chef to come out,” he says, “and I asked him why he used foreign meat. He said, ‘People eat with their eyes, not with their taste buds,’ and that foreign meat had bigger pieces than jumbo. But I could tell. I could tell right away. It looks like fake meat and tastes like it too. And it has a smell to it. I could tell right away.”
The moral of the story is simple: When it comes to crabmeat, in Louisiana as in Maryland, accept no substitutes.