x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Cornish crab cakes make for a sophisticated starter

Be prepared with a great dinner party starter that shouts your sophistication.

Cornish crab cake. Silvia Razgova / The National
Cornish crab cake. Silvia Razgova / The National

I had a letter last week asking me if I was offended when the girl for whom I had planned to prepare steak tartare refused to eat it. The answer is no. I am not easily offended. Rudeness offends me, and the girl in question was very well-educated so refused my culinary advances with great grace.

I am often accused of being crabby and unreasonable, of shouting and throwing people out of my restaurants. It is true, I have thrown people out of my restaurants, but only when they have been rude - mainly to the staff - which is something I can't abide. And I have also thrown people out for being too rowdy. I always feel very sorry for a couple who are out for a romantic dinner and there is some braying loudmouth next to them showing off. But I have to defend myself when people accuse me of ranting and raving. I don't shout and swear, unlike some chefs I could mention. You see, I believe that self-control is true power - if you can control yourself you will always make the right decision and do things for the right reason. I never shout and I never get angry because that is akin to weakness.

Now, you may have noticed the use of the word "crabby" earlier. This was put there to bring me seamlessly onto the subject of today's column: Cornish crab cakes. This is one of my favourite recipes; it is one of those dishes that looks so sophisticated and complicated but in truth is extremely easy. It is so full of flavour, the tartness of the grapefruit blending perfectly with the crabmeat and the mayonnaise. And I adore the texture of the crab cakes - that crispy exterior and the smooth interior.

These crab cakes are a great dinner party starter because you can prepare the actual cakes and pop them in the fridge until it's time to eat. I'm a great believer in preparation; but its importance is something I learnt only later in life.

If I had been more prepared before visiting the girl who refused the steak tartare, perhaps with a crab cake or two as a backup, who knows what might have happened...



Cornish crab cakes


800g Cornish crabmeat 1 small red onion, minced

1 egg

125ml mayonnaise

2 tbsp Dijon mustard

2 tbsp lemon juice

5g parsley, chopped

5g chives, minced

20g breadcrumbs

Salt and pepper to taste


1. Pick through the crabmeat to ensure it is free of shell and cartilage.

2. Mix all the ingredients together, adding the breadcrumbs last. Season with salt and pepper. 3. Mould the crab mix into 6 rounds using a round cookie cutter. Keep in the refrigerator until ready to pan fry.


Cucumber and grapefruit salad


For the grapefruit

200ml water

100ml lemon juice

250g sugar 3 star anise

2 grapefruit

For the cucumber

2 English cucumbers

100ml grape vinegar

100ml water

100g sugar

10g ginger, sliced

2 sprigs fresh dill


1. Bring water, lemon juice, sugar and anise to the boil; pour the hot lemon mixture over the segmented grapefruit and let macerate in the refrigerator overnight.

2. Bring vinegar, water, sugar, ginger and dill to the boil; cool to room temperature.

3. Let the cucumber, seeded and cut into ribbons, marinate in the vinegar mixture for 30 minutes.


50 ml vegetable oil

6 crab cakes


Marinated cucumber

Macerated grapefruit

1/2 head frisée lettuce

3 radishes, sliced thin

1. Pan fry each crab cake in the oil until golden and crisp on both sides.

2. Spoon a line of mayonnaise on a plate and place the crab cake on top.

3. Drain the liquid from the cucumber and grapefruit, then toss in a bowl with the frisée lettuce.

4. Place the salad on top of the crab cake and garnish with radish slices.