Imitation Crab Cakes With Chipotle Aioli

I remember making imitation crab cakes when my kids were young that I really enjoyed. Let's face it, crab cakes made with REAL crab are much better, but the cost is way higher. The imitation crab option worked great for our budget and the kids didn't care.

While shopping in mid-December for things to make while my daughter was here over the holidays, I saw a package of imitation crab and decided to try them again. Unfortunately I couldn't find that amazing recipe I used so many years ago.  What to do?  Why a Google Search of course!

I was instantly drawn to the idea of an air fryer recipe and this one by Maya Ferrante for Food Network rose to the top. Below I am sharing the original with my notes added so anyone who want to can use real fresh crab meat.  Could I just substitute the imitation product?  I had no idea but it was worth a try. I also was going to mix them up, freeze them, and then pull them out while my company was here. Make ahead meals are always a good idea for company. I used the old Tupperware hamburger press to shape them which really speeds things up. 

The final product taste
d great, but didn't hold together very well  The shred was too large no matter how much I tried.  I updated the recipe below in Jan. 2023 to use the 2 lb. package of imitation crab meat they sell here, and made slight adjustments to help the patties stick together better. They still crumbled a bit in my 2 tier Instant Pot with air fryer as it is too deep to get a spatula under them properly to turn, so I am sharing an image of the raw patties before freezing (will change out when I make them again) and may try sautéing them next time. 

Instead of the sauce they created, I used the Culinary Treasure's Chipotle Aioli, bought in a two-pack at Costco.  Just a dollop on top did the trick.  I have included the original recipe's sauce below as it's super easy. I have made something like it  before, but subbed yogurt for the sour cream.  You could also just add fresh dill and maybe a squeeze of lemon to the mayo/sour cream mix. 


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Imitation Crab Cakes Chipotle Aioli

Ingredients -

Crab Cakes:
2                     Large egg
1/3 C              Mayonnaise
1 C                Finely diced red bell pepper (about 1 small bell pepper)
1/4 C             Finely chopped fresh chives
1                    Stalk celery finely minced (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 C              Finely chopped fresh parsley (optional)
2 tsp               Grated lemon zest
1/4 C               Fresh lemon juice
4 tsps              Dijon mustard
4 tsps              Seafood seasoning, such as Old Bay
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 lbs               Imitation crab meat (original used REAL crab)
2 C   Panko breadcrumbs (can add up to another 1/2C if needed)
1 C                Seasoned Bread Crumbs
Nonstick cooking spray, for the air-fryer basket and crab cakes
Lemon wedges, for serving

Chipotle Sauce - 
NOTE - I used Culinary Treasure's Chipotle Aioli instead of making my own
1/2 C               Mayonnaise
1/4 C               Sour cream (could sub yogurt for less calories)
2                     Chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, finely chopped
2 tsps              Adobo sauce

Instructions - 

For the crab cakes: 

Imitation crab varies a lot. If what you get is chunkier and bigger pieces that don't shred, then cross slice and crumble a bit which your fingers until a smaller texture. If too chunky, the crab cakes won't hold together

Whisk together the egg, mayonnaise, bell pepper, celery, chives, parsley, lemon zest and juice, mustard, seafood seasoning, salt and several grinds of black pepper in a large bowl. With a rubber spatula or large spoon, fold in the imitation crab, panko crumbs and seasoned bread crumbs into the mixture. Try to avoid breaking up the crab as much as possible. Place half cup level scoops onto wax or parchment paper and shape into cakes. I use a Tupperware hamburger press and love it. (You can also cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to help the mixture stick together better. Up to you.)

To freeze:
I prepared a cooking sheet and dropped large mounds onto it, covered them with plastic wrap and then placed in the freezer. When frozen, I moved them all into a Ziploc Freezer bag so I could pull out a few at a time. You can cook from frozen (lower temp and longer time) or cooked thawed.

For the chipotle sauce: (I used store bought!)
While the crab mixture is resting, stir together the mayonnaise, sour cream, chipotles and adobo sauce, chives, parsley and lemon zest and juice in a small bowl until combined. Season with salt and black pepper and set aside. (The sauce can be refrigerated, covered with plastic wrap, up to 1 day.)

Pan Fry (originally an air fryer recipe, but it wasn't working well in the style of air fryer I had, so I am switching to pan frying in the future) -
A medium heat for thawed, a lower heat for frozen. Sauteeing in butter will give the cakes additional flavor. Use Olive or Avocado oil for healthier choice. You could even dip the patties in egg and panko before frying to give them a crust. Sauté until cooked through and crispy on the outside. (Note-I find with my very vertical 2 tier air fryer it too hard to flip these, so will be pan frying them in the future.)

Air Fry Thawed - 
Preheat the air fryer to 375 degrees F and spray the basket with cooking spray. Place the crab cakes into the basket and spray the tops with cooking spray. Cook until deep golden brown and crisp, flipping halfway through and spraying again with cooking spray, about 16 minutes. Serve warm with chipotle sauce and lemon wedges.

Air Fry from frozen:
I preheated the air fryer to 350 (chose a little lower temp as I was cooking from frozen) and sprayed the basket with cooking spray.  I pulled 4 cakes from the freezer and placed in one layer in the basket.  I cooked them for 10 min., checked them and cooked more. Probably ended up about the same amount of time.  How much longer you cook them really depends on the size of the crab cakes and how dense they were packed.