Aromatic Crab Cakes

Sri Owen shares with us a recipe from her book, Indonesian Food for Aromatic Crab Cakes and the story behind them.

My fondest recollection of eating crab was of my father’s hot chilli crab. He was a very good cook, taking after his mother. As I’ve said so much about her cooking, I should not forget that of her son. While I was still living with my parents, my father used to bring home live crabs from the market. Men of my parents’ generation were not expected even to enter the kitchen, let alone cook. But my father had always been fascinated by food, and my grandmother let him cook, out of doors, while we lived in Padang Panjang. As in many countries nowadays, outdoor barbecuing seemed to be the prerogative of men – my father was allowed to supervise the spit-roasting of a whole goat, and any other outdoor work, such as tending lemang, glutinous rice cooked in bamboo tubes. His crab repertoire was not large; having killed and dismembered his crab, he would expertly pick out the white meat and pass it to my mother, who would make crabmeat scrambled with eggs, and crabmeat fritters.
Before I give you the recipe that I have developed from those basic fritters, I would like to continue with a word or two on the subject of buying crabs. Unfortunately, in the west, unless you live in coastal towns, it is difficult to get really good live crabs. If you have a very good fishmonger near your home, you may sometimes be lucky. You can get dressed crabs easily enough from specialty delis, but for this recipe you don’t need dressed crab, only the best white crabmeat. The best crab I have ever tasted (apart from my father’s chilli crab) was a Dungeness crab we had at a friend’s house in Portland, Oregon. And honourable mention must go to the chilli crab we had at the Courtyard Restaurant in Singapore’s Raffles Hotel. I fear I have not inherited my father’s talent for cracking shells and extracting the meat. I now buy crabmeat fresh from my local fishmonger.

450–560g/16–20oz fresh of frozen crabmeat, white meat only, or white and brown meat from 2 good-sized live crabs to make the same weight
225g/8oz peeled new or waxy potatoes, boiled until tender, then mashed and a large pinch of salt added
3 tablespoons finely chopped spring onions
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped kaffir lime leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped lemongrass, inner part only
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh root ginger
1⁄2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon (or less) chilli flakes
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon rice flour or plain all-purpose flour
1⁄2 teaspoon sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
about 115ml/4fl oz peanut (groundnut) or olive oil for frying

Serves 4 as a starter (makes 12 small or 20 smaller crab cakes)


Mix together all the ingredients for the crab cakes, except the egg and oil. When they are all blended by hand or with a fork, add the lightly beaten egg and mix this into the crab mixture. Check the seasoning, in case you need to add a little more salt and pepper. Divide the paste into 12 or 20 portions, mould each portion into a ball, and chill for 30 minutes.
Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan until hot. Flatten each crab ball to make a round flat cake. Cooking in batches of 6–8 crab cakes at a time, fry on one side for 2 minutes, then turn over and fry on the other side for 2 minutes or a little less. Remove using a slotted spoon, and drain on kitchen paper.
To serve, arrange three or five crab cakes on each serving plate, and decorate with a handful of mixed salad dressed with your favourite piquant dressing.

*YOURLifeChoices suggests using tinned crabmeat to make this recipe more affordable