Ornamental Separator

Frying Crab

Watch our historic foodways staff cook this recipe, then try it at home

Although based on a common patty or croquette, the classic Chesapeake crab cake isn’t to be found in any cookbook printed in the 18th century. This recipe is the closest we have. Fresh picked blue crabs are best for this recipe. However, the recipe works adequately if you use dungeness crab, canned, or even artificial crab.

18th Century

First boil a large crab, take the meat out of the great claws, then flour and fry it; then take the meat out of the body, strain it, keep one half to be fried and the other for the sauce; mix that you fry with almond paste, grated bread, salt, nutmeg, and the yolks of eggs; dip these first in some batter; and fry them in clarified butter; then beat some butter up thick with the juice of an orange and grated nutmeg; put in the rest of the strained meat, let this be your sauce; dish the fried meat, placing the legs around it, run it over with beaten butter, and lay fried parsley around it.

— Nott, John, “Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary 1726” Art 195.

21st Century


For the crab cakes:

  • ¾ lb. lump crab meat
  • ½ cup ground almonds
  • ½ cup bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 stick butter or canola oil for frying

For the sauce:

  • 1 stick butter
  • ½ lb. crab meat from the claws
  • the juice of 1 orange
  • ½ fresh grated nutmeg

1 tsp. salt


  1. Take the ¾ pound of crab and combine it with the ground almonds, bread crumbs, nutmeg and egg yolks. Make these into small, thin cakes.
  2. Mix the wine and egg together, then add the flour and stir till thick.
  3. Dip the crab cakes in the batter and refrigerate them for an hour.
  4. Fry the patties in clarified butter until nicely browned. Drain on paper towels and keep warm.
  5. Cream the butter with your hand until you can easily move your fingers through it without feeling any lumps. Add the juice of the orange and the nutmeg. Using your hands, mix all the orange juice into the butter. Add the claw meat to the butter and orange mixture.
  6. Spoon the butter sauce over the crab cakes and serve them hot. The butter will melt to glaze the crab cake underneath. As an alternative, you may use your favorite seafood sauce.

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