Food & Drink

A great crab cake is all about the crab

Matt Adler's Crab Cakes With Garlic Aioli.
Matt Adler's Crab Cakes With Garlic Aioli. Osteria Morini

I'm partial to crab cakes, and bow in the direction of those who continue to raise the bar with ways that highlight the main ingredient's simple, natural sweetness.

So here's to Matt Adler, executive chef at Osteria Morini on the waterfront in Washington, D.C., who took home top honors at last year’s annual crab cake competition at The Source downtown. His version is all about the crab, and seems just right for a summer weekend's breakfast (with poached eggs), lunch (with a salad) or dinner (as a starter or main course).

His recipe makes a lot more aioli than you'll need to form the crab cakes, but I'm betting you can find ways to use it or share it with the neighbors within a week's time.

Crab Cakes With Garlic Aioli

Adapted from Matt Adler, executive chef at Osteria Morini in Washington.

For the aioli:

4 cloves garlic

4 cups canola oil

3 large egg yolks

6 to 8 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon good-quality red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Pinch ground cayenne pepper

For the crab cakes:

1 pound jumbo lump Maryland crabmeat, picked over to remove cartilage (preferably not pasteurized)

2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard

Finely grated orange zest (2 swipes with a Microplane zester)

3/4 cup plain panko (breadcrumbs), plus 1/2 cup for coating

Kosher salt

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

For the aioli: Smash the garlic cloves and place them in a glass bowl; add the oil, cover and refrigerate for 8 hours.

Combine the egg yolks, 4 tablespoons water, vinegar, lemon juice, salt and cayenne pepper in a food processor; puree until smooth and well blended.

Discard the garlic in the oil; with the motor running, gradually stream in the oil to form a thick aioli. Add some or all of the remaining water to achieve the desired consistency. The yield is 4 2/3 cups. You'll need 2/3 cup to make the crab cakes; transfer the rest to a container, place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the aioli, cover tightly and refrigerate up to 1 week.

For the crab cakes: Gently combine the crabmeat and the 2/3 cup of aioli in a mixing bowl. Add the mustard, orange zest and panko, then season lightly with salt. Stir gently, then cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Form the crab cake mixture into 14 cakes of equal size. Place a baking sheet in a 200-degree oven.

Heat the oil and butter in a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spread the remaining 1/2 cup of panko on a plate. Working in batches, dust the crab cakes' tops and bottoms with the panko, pressing just so the crumbs adhere, then place them in the skillet. Fry for a few minutes on each side, just until crispy brown on the exterior and warmed through. Transfer to the baking sheet in the oven and repeat to fry the remaining crab cakes.

Serve warm, with a little more aioli.

Per serving: 290 calories, 13 g protein, 8 g carbohydrates, 24 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 70 mg cholesterol, 370 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar

Yield: 7 servings (makes 14 2 1/2-ounce cakes).