There are some foods that are simply always better when you prepare them at home than when you order them in a restaurant. Crab cakes are at the top of that list. Too often, restaurant crab cakes are overly fried and breaded, resulting in heavy cakes that taste more like greasy fast food than delicate fresh crab. But making them at home can be time-consuming. While ingredient lists for crab cakes need not be long, a lot of recipes call for things like homemade mayonnaise, a bevy of aromatics, or spices you don't necessarily have on hand. Would Crate & Barrel's Chesapeake Crab Cake Mix ($3.95) streamline the process without compromising flavor?
The mix contained two packets, one filled with seasoned cracker crumbs and one filled with a mixture of dehydrated vegetables and herbs. I was most concerned with rehydrating the vegetables. What could be worse than biting into a tender crab cake and encountering a tough, bitter sliver of dried parsley? Fortunately, after only a few minutes soaking in one tablespoon of water, the veggies were generally revived (if not exactly fresh-looking).
The next step was to combine the rehydrated vegetables with one beaten egg, 1/4 cup of mayonnaise, and the contents of the cracker packet. Finally, I folded in one pound of lump crab meat and formed the mixture into six modest-sized cakes. If you are a fan of crab cakes with a crunchy crust, you might want to take the extra step of dredging these cakes in additional bread or cracker crumbs. As is, they looked a bit naked—the crumbs provided in the packet didn't amount to much.
I pan-fried my crab cakes and served them to a couple of hungry testers. For the most part they received favorable reviews. On the plus side, the texture of the cakes was spot on. Not a single one broke apart on the journey from pan to plate. They were moist and delicate, and the flavors were crab-forward. However, we found the spice somewhat lacking. Chesapeake crab cakes are noted for the kick of Old Bay, which we could detect only faintly in the Crate & Barrel cakes. The dehydrated vegetables also didn't add much. While I don't advocate many add-ins, a smattering of crunchy red bell pepper or minced onion highlights the sweetness of the crab meat. The dehydrated vegetables just didn't have any flavor or texture.
Ultimately, while this mix was quick, easy, and yielded well-textured crab cakes, the flavor didn't live up to the Chesapeake name. I would skip it unless you're really in a hurry.