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Crab Cakes with Sweet-and-Sour Cucumber Salad

In Thailand, this crab cake mixture is typically stuffed into the shells of small blue or mud crabs and deep-fried. Here, it is molded into patties and panfried to make a delicious starter that is paired with a refreshing cucumber salad. Panko, commercially sold Japanese bread crumbs, produce an exceptionally crispy crust.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb. ground pork butt
  • 2 shallots, finely minced, plus 1 large shallot, finely sliced
  • 1 red serrano chili, minced
  • 1 green onion, finely sliced
  • 1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper
  • 3 Tbs. coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 Tbs. panko or fine dried white bread crumbs, or as needed, plus 1 cup for coating
  • 1 Tbs. fish sauce
  • 1 tsp. ground pepper
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. plus 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 lb. cooked fresh crabmeat, flaked
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/2 English (hothouse) cucumber, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and thinly sliced
  • 1 green serrano chili, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbs. chopped roasted peanuts
  • Peanut oil or corn oil for frying

Directions:

In a large bowl, combine the pork, minced shallots, red serrano chili, green onion, bell pepper, 2 Tbs. of the cilantro, 2 Tbs. panko, fish sauce, pepper, 1/2 tsp. of the salt, 1/4 tsp. sugar and the egg. Mix well. If the mixture is too moist and does not hold together, add more panko. Add the crabmeat and mix without compressing the crab.

Place the 1 cup panko in a shallow dish. Scoop up 1/3 cup crab mixture and form it into a cake 3 inches in diameter and 3/4 inch thick. Dip each crab cake into the panko, pressing it into the crumbs and turning to coat both sides. Arrange on a baking sheet. You should have 8 cakes. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the vinegar, 2 Tbs. sugar and remaining 1/2 tsp. salt and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until a light syrup forms, about 5 minutes. Let cool. Place the cucumber, green serrano chili and sliced shallot in a nonaluminum bowl; add the vinegar mixture, stir gently and let stand for 15 minutes. Divide the cucumber salad among 4 small plates. Just before serving, sprinkle evenly with the remaining 1 Tbs. cilantro and the peanuts.

In a large fry pan over medium-high heat, pour oil to a depth of 1/4 inch and heat to 360°F on a deep-frying thermometer. Add the crab cakes without crowding them in the pan and fry, turning once, until crisp and golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Using a slotted spatula, transfer to paper towels to drain.

Serve hot with the cucumber salad.
Serves 4.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Lifestyles Series, Asian Flavors, by Joyce Jue (Time-Life Books, 1999).