Food is a wonderful way to connect us to seasons past, and this week’s recipe for Sarello’s crab cakes with Romesco sauce is the perfect antidote for those pesky end-of-summer blues.

Made famous in Maryland, we have often been told by guests from near and far that our crab cakes are every bit as good as you’ll find out East. But you’d be surprised by just how easy it is to recreate this famous specialty in your own home.

According to Tony, there are two keys to success that will make the difference between a crab cake that transports you straight to the Atlantic coast, and one that is just, well … meh.

First, you must use a lot of crab meat, and Tony recommends following at least a 2-to-1 ratio of crab to breading. Otherwise your cakes could be dry and tasteless. Secondly, if you want your cakes to taste like they do out East, you must use Old Bay seasoning. This blend of 18 herbs and spices is a mainstay on tables up and down the Chesapeake Bay, where they use it as commonly as salt and pepper on all kinds of seafood.

We use jumbo lump crab meat, which is known for its sweet and delicate meat. It comes in cans and has a long shelf life, so shop around for the best prices and stock your pantry.

Since I’m allergic to shellfish, I often use canned salmon instead and hardly feel that I’m missing out. Tony and I love the ease of this recipe, which requires only enough skill to open a can and form a fish cake. Making these cakes with our son, Giovanni, was a great way to introduce him to seafood and made him much more willing to try a new dish.

We use Japanese-style breadcrumbs for the breading, as they give the cakes a little more air than traditional crumbs. Diced red pepper, scallions and red onion are also in the mix, not only for flavor, but for color. Dijon mustard, a scant amount of mayo, some Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce (or W-sauce as Tony calls it), Old Bay, fresh lemon juice and granulated garlic round out the recipe, bringing a punch of flavor to the cakes.

The cakes can be formed large for a main course or small for appetizers and will make a terrific addition to any tailgating or game day festivities. We have traditionally served them with a lemon or roasted red pepper aioli, but for this occasion we’ve chosen to pair the crab cakes with a Romesco sauce.

Originating in the Catalonia region of Spain, Romesco is a sauce based of nuts and roasted red peppers, and is traditionally served with seafood dishes but is also very good as a condiment with chicken or beef.

Our recipe calls for sliced almonds, which can be raw or toasted, but hazelnuts or pine nuts would also work well. Save yourself the trouble of roasting the red peppers – a jar from the supermarket is all you’ll need. Stale bread is also in the mix, and you can use any white or French bread, or even day-old dinner rolls.

You can make the crab cakes and the sauce three to four days in advance and simply fry up the cakes just before the (Bison) game starts.

Sarello's Crab Cakes

Makes: 15 to 16 appetizers or approximately 10 entrée-sized cakes (four to six servings)

Ingredients:

1 pound jumbo lump crab meat (canned salmon or fresh fish like walleye also work well)

2 ounces mayonnaise (use your own, if you make it)

1 ounce Dijon mustard

3 dashes Tabasco

4 dashes Worcestershire sauce

1 egg

½ ounce diced red pepper

½ ounce diced red onion

Juice of half a lemon

2 pinches granulated garlic

1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning

½ to 1 cup Japanese-style breadcrumbs (Panko)

Directions:

Combine all ingredients except the crab meat and the breadcrumbs with a whisk. Add crab and ½ cup breadcrumbs. Lightly toss all ingredients together, making sure not to break up the lumps of crab meat. Watch carefully: The mixture should not be too dry or too wet. Add more crumbs if necessary. Form into desired sized cakes and sauté in hot oil until golden brown on each side.

Serve immediately with Romesco sauce or any flavored aioli.

Tony’s Tips:

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  • The crab cakes can be made and/or formed in advance, and refrigerated for up to four days before cooking.
  • Crab cakes can be frozen cooked or uncooked for several months. To freeze after cooking, allow the cakes to come to room temperature before placing in the freezer. 
  • To store, place the cakes on a baking sheet lined with wax or parchment paper and place in the freezer for one to two hours. Transfer the frozen cakes to an airtight container or freezer bag, separating any layers with wax paper. 
  • If reheating cooked cakes, bring them to room temperature first and cook in oil for two to three minutes until hot.

Romesco Sauce

Ingredients:

2 roasted red peppers from a jar

½ cup sliced almonds, raw or toasted

1 cup old bread, torn into pieces (any type of white bread or roll)

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

½ cup fresh parsley, stems removed

1 teaspoon smoked paprika (or plain)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

2 garlic cloves

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

Put all ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor and pulse until combined. Let the machine run as you slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream to achieve a smooth consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to three to four days.