This is the kind of recipe that gives gourmet cooking a bad name and demonstrates my number one pet peeve with any cookbook. Here’s why:

The main recipe is on page 83. In the list of ingredients is “1/4 cup Piment d’Espelette Aioli (page 333).” When you turn to page 333 you will find Mayonnaise, of which Aioli is one variation and Piment d’Espelette Aioli a sub-variation. In order to make Aioli out of mayo you will need “Garlic Oil from Garlic Confit (page 266).” Are you still with me? To make Piment d’Espelette Aioli you will need “1 teaspoon Piment d’Espelette (see page 208).” Are you ready to slap Thomas Keller yet? I was. Turning to page 208 you will see a sidebar that tells you that Piment d’Espelette is “ground dried chile peppers, from the village of Espelette in Spain’s Basque region” and if you want to buy them “see page 346.” That’s five separate pages for ONE RECIPE and he would like you please to mail order the 1 teaspoon of chile powder from Spain, if you don’t mind (ok, you’re going to order it from someone who orders it from Spain. But still). In the interest of making the recipe this week vs. 4-6 weeks from now, I decided that the regular non-Basque region chile powder I already had would do just fine.

As if that weren’t enough punishment for one day, the final ingredient is “Piquillo Pepper Vinaigrette (page 182).” Piquillo peppers are “stubby red peppers…grown in northern Spain and roasted over wood fires.” If you’re such a lazy cook that you can’t be bothered to go to northern Spain and find one of the many Piquillo roasters, you can hit the easy button and order them “(see page 346).” Again, I need to get this show on the road so I decided, based on the description and the picture, that these look similar enough to the non-northern-Spain roasted red peppers in a jar from Jewel and I used those.

So now all you have to do is make Crab Cakes! And I only had to go to two stores to find crab meat ($30/lb. which didn’t surprise me, sadly).

The obvious question is: was it worth it?  In my judgment: probably not.  They were absolutely delicious crab cakes and, per the suggestion, I served them on a bed of frisee with the vinaigrette drizzled on top but I think they would have been better served with just the Aioli.  The frisee added nothing and the vinaigrette was thick and uninteresting (due probably to my phone-it-in red peppers).

The best part of the whole thing is that I made mayonnaise/Aioli for the first time and it was incredibly easy and really really good.  It makes 2 cups so there was plenty leftover but it only keeps for a week so I’m frantically spreading on everything that’s not moving this week.  I used it the next night in a creamy garlic salad dressing recipe in lieu of the regular mayo and the night after that on ham sandwiches.  Keller’s method is all in the food processor and you use the white feed tube which, as I learned, has a tiny hole at the bottom that drizzles the perfect amount of oil into the eggs.

Bottom line: if you have a favorite crab cake recipe, stick with it.  If you want to make your own mayo and Aioli (and I recommend you do), use this recipe:

Makes 2 cups

4 large egg yolks
2 cups canola oil (or an equal amount of garlic oil for Aioli)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Put the egg yolks in a food processor and process to combine.  With the motor running, begin adding the oil very, very slowly, blending until emulsified and thickened.  Add the lemon juice and salt.  Refrigerate in a covered container for up to 1 week.

Crab Cakes
From Ad Hoc at Home, by Thomas Keller
Printable version
Serves 6 as an appetizer or 4 as a main course

1-1/2 teaspoons (1/4 oz.) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons finely diced onion
2 tablespoons finely diced red bell pepper
1 garlic clove
1-1/4 lb. lump and/or jumbo crabmeat, such as Dungeness or Maryland Blue crab, picked over for shells and cartilage
¼ cup Piment d’Espelette Aioli
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning, or to taste
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2-1/2 cups panko crumbs
1 large egg
Canola oil
Piquillo Pepper Vinaigrette

Position two oven racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350-degrees.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the onion and pepper. Grate the garlic with a Microplane grater directly into the pan (or mince it and add it). Cook, stirring often, until the onion and pepper are tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.

Place the cleaned crabmeat in a fine mesh basket strainer and drain well.

In a large bowl, whisk the aioli with the Worcestshire, mustard, parsley, Old Bay, and lemon juice to combine well. Stir in ½ cup of the panko crumbs and the onion mixture. Gently fold in the crab. Lightly whisk the egg in a small bowl, and gently fold it into the mixture.

Put the remaining 2 cups panko crumbs in a shallow bowl. Divide the crab mixture into 12 equal portions [I used an ice cream scoop for this]. One portion at a time, gently shape the mixture into a ball, roll gently in the panko to coat, and shape into a slightly flattened ball about 2” in diameter and 1” thick. Add a bit more panko as needed to coat, and set on a plate.

Heat some (!) canola oil in each of two (!) large ovenproof frying pans over medium heat until it shimmers. [I think I used about ¼ cup of oil in a very large pan that easily accommodated all of the crab cakes without crowding. I found I needed more oil to cook the second side so I would remove them after cooking on the first side, add 2-3 tablespoons more oil, then return them to the pan]. If you don’t have two pans, cook the cakes in batches and transfer to a rack set over a baking sheet, then finish in the oven). Add the cakes, pat down gently, still maintaining the rounded shape, and cook until golden brown on the first side, about 5 minutes. With a spatula, gently turn each crab cake over and cook on the second side for another 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer the pans to the oven and cook for 2-3 minutes, to ensure that the crab cakes are hot throughout.

Line a small baking sheet with paper towels. Transfer the crab cakes to the towels to briefly drain. Arrange the crab cakes on a serving plate and serve the vinaigrette on the side.