Choosing the best frozen crab cakes is largely a matter of personal taste and sometimes a matter of chance, but knowing your options and having some sense of the appropriate lingo will help make the process easier. For the most part, there are two main styles of crab cake. “Maryland style,” which combines crab meat with other ingredients like breadcrumbs, mayonnaise, and chopped vegetables, is usually the most common amongst frozen choices. “Restaurant style,” on the other hand, is usually pure crab, typically lump meat. Critical label reading and a bit of research is usually required to make the best choice, as even within these categories, manufactures vary with respect to how much meat they use, where that meat is from, and whether there are other fillers present.
In most cases, the most flavorful crab cakes are those that have not been frozen for very long. Many seafood counters and delis will sell fresh crab cakes that have been flash-frozen or packed in ice on site. Freezing crab cakes that have been newly made is one of the easiest ways to ensure flavor and nutritive content, but it is not always feasible or budget-friendly. Many mass-market manufacturers sell crab cakes in the freezer sections of most grocery stores. This is where most frozen crab cakes are found.
The first thing to look for in the freezer section is an ingredient list. Often the best-looking products do not live up to expectations out of the frying pan in large part because their ingredients are not what the cook expected. Most of the time, labels list ingredients in order of their proportions in the finished product. Crab meat should be one of the first, if not the first, substance named.
On its own, the term “crab meat” does not say much. There are many different kinds of crab, and many different body parts at that. Many of the most flavorful frozen crab cakes are made from lump meat, which sits just below the shell along the crustacean’s back. Meat from the claw is also common, and is often less expensive to harvest. Claw meat has a different texture than lump meat, but often bears a similar taste.
While frozen crab cakes must contain at least some crab, they may include other seafood as well. Surimi, a white fish slurry more commonly known as “imitation crab meat,” is a frequent addition to processed crab cakes. These sorts of substitutions mimic the general taste of crab, but usually lend a totally different texture to the finished cake. They are usually made with artificial flavors and colors as well.
Consumers should also be on the lookout for excessive fillers. Some vegetables and breadcrumbs are traditional in Maryland style frozen crab cakes, but they should never overpower the crab. Too many bell peppers, potatoes, or crumbs can give the impression that the crab meat was more of an afterthought than a centerpiece. Sometimes this can be deduced from the label, but more often than not products must be tried or reliable reviews read in order to discern what really is inside the box.
Making crab cakes may require some additional work out of the box, depending on personal preference. Many cooks prefer their crab cakes breaded, for instance. Some frozen crab cakes come with a sort of crust, but not all do. Size may also be a consideration. Mini crab cakes are better for appetizers, while meatier, thicker versions are better for sandwiches or stand-alone entrees.
There is also usually a choice when it comes to crab cake preparation. Frozen crab cakes are sold either precooked or raw, and usually require pan frying, deep frying, or baking before they will be ready to serve. Preparing crab cakes is largely a matter of style, but different products are made with different cooking methods in mind.