RECIPE | Old School Crab Cakes with Dijon-Tarragon Cream Sauce

The blue crab holds court over the Chesapeake Bay. Although the aquamarine-hued crustacean is found in waters along the Atlantic seaboard and into the Gulf of Mexico, it is here that Callinectes sapidus (the species name, translating to “beautiful swimmer”) is true royalty.

As a dish, we love crab in many forms, but a favorite in a crab cake. 

Although found in other parts of the country, crab cakes are rightfully associated with the Chesapeake Bay region. Folks here have been making some form of them for centuries. 

How do we define “crabcake”? See the Crab 101 section below. 

There are two kinds of crab cakes — homestyle , sometimes called boardwalk, and restaurant-style. 

The first type may use quite a bit of filler, like breadcrumbs or crushed crackers, a binder, and crabmeat grades like special or claw. These patties are typically fried and sometimes served on buns. 

Restaurant-style may or may not use filler, has little binder, and features lump backfin or jumbo lump. These are often sautéed and served with rich sauces. Both are delicious.

Serve drizzled with our addictive Dijon-Tarragon Cream Sauce, or with our homemade cocktail sauce or tartar sauce. 


1⁄4 cup mayonnaise 

1 egg 

1-1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice 

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 

1 teaspoon dry mustard 

1⁄2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1⁄4 teaspoon Chesapeake Bay seasoning 

1⁄8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 

1 pound backfin crabmeat 

8 Ritz or other buttery crackers, finely crushed 

3 scallions, light green and white parts only, finely chopped 

2 cups all-purpose flour 

1⁄2 cup peanut oil


Whisk the mayonnaise, egg, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, pepper flakes, Chesapeake Bay seasoning, and black pepper together in a medium bowl. Put the flour in a shallow dish. 

Combine the crabmeat, crackers, and scallions in a separate bowl and lightly toss. Pour the mayonnaise mixture over the crabmeat mixture and gently toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for about 20 minutes to firm up. 

Form the crab mixture into cakes using a 3-ounce ice cream scoop (or about 3 tablespoons) for each, and dredge them lightly in flour. 

Heat the peanut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and, working with two or three crab cakes at a time, cook until golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Turn the crab cakes and cook until golden on the other side, about 4 minutes. Place on a paper towel–lined plate and cover to keep warm while you cook up the rest of the batch, or place on an ovenproof plate in a low oven at around 200F.


1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup course grain mustard

2 teaspoons fresh tarragon, chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper


In a medium saucepan, combine cream and mustard and heat over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes or until warmed. Add salt, pepper and tarragon and stir to incorporate. Drizzle over crabs. Garnish with chopped green onion and parsley.

If you’d like our recipe for homemade cocktail sauce and tartar sauce, email us at with “cocktail/tartar sauce recipe” as the subject.


Want to know more about this Coastal Virginia Culinary Calling Card? Here’s our crab primer.

CRAB 101

Backfin – large pieces of white meat from the backfin cavity, smaller than jumbo lump; often used in crab cakes, sautéed crab, crab cakes, salads and garnishes.

Claw meat – meat from crab claws, usually dark and rich; often used in soups, stews and crab cakes.

Crab boil – a boiling hot pot of water, usually with spices added and sometimes with the addition of vinegar or beer, in which or over which hard crabs are cooked. If steamed, or cooked over the boiling water, the crab itself is seasoned, often with Old Bay.

Crab Cake – a formation of crab and, usually, a binding ingredient such as egg or mayonnaise; filler such as bread crumbs or crushed crackers; and seasoning such as black pepper or Old Bay; into patties and then fried, broiled or sautéed and served as an entrée or on bread as a sandwich.

Crab Imperial – a rich mixture of crab, butter, mayonnaise, milk, eggs, flour and seasonings baked in individual portions or a large casserole.

Crab Norfolk – jumbo lump crab sautéed in butter and with the addition of a splash of vinegar and some seasoning – usually cayenne pepper – and served hot in an individual casserole.

Crab pot – a large square trap of (traditionally) wire and other materials baited with fish, chicken (especially chicken necks) and the like, and released into the water to capture crabs through a system of compartments. Conversely, crabs can be caught with a baited handline and dip net.

Jimmies – male crabs.

Jumbo lump – large nuggets of meat from the body cavity; often used in sautéed crab, crab cakes, salads and garnishes.

Sallies – immature female crabs.

She-Crab Soup – a thick, rich soup, similar to a bisque, made with crab or fish stock, heavy cream, seasonings and large pieces of crab meat. Traditionally crab roe (crab eggs) are added. The soup is topped with a splash of dry sherry.  

Sizes – for hard crabs: colossal (6.5 inches or more); jumbo (6 to 6.5 inches); large (5.5 to 6 inches); medium (5 to 5.5 inches); small (4.5 to 5 inches, usually females.)

Sizes – for soft crabs: whale (also known as slab or counter – 5.5 inches or more); jumbo ( 5 to 5.5 inches); prime (4.5 to 5 inches); hotel (4 to 4.5 inches); medium (3.5 to 4 inches.)

Soft crab, soft-shelled crab – a crab that has finished its molting, or peeling of its hard exterior, and removed from water quickly to prevent its new, soft exoskeleton from hardening. Traditionally soft crabs are available fresh May through October. Soft crabs are cooked, and eaten, whole. Soft crabs are usually served dressed and pan-ready.

Sooks, she-crabs – mature female crabs.  

Special meat, regular meat – white flakes of crab meat as opposed to lump; often used in crab cakes, soups, salads and dips

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