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Why can't I use flour? Most websites counsel "cracker crumbs and egg hold the patties together"? How does flour differ from bread, or cracker, crumbs?

  • Chef Dennis: Cracker crumbs make the best filler and best breading agent for seafood. You can’t always find cracker meal or cracker crumbs at the grocery store, but it’s easy to make your own out of saltine crackers or club crackers using a food processor or blender. You can also use panko bread crumbs as a substitute.

  • MasterClass: 4. Use alternatives to breadcrumbs. If there are too many breadcrumbs in the mixture, it has the potential to dry out a crab cake. The purpose of breadcrumbs is to be a binding agent and hold the crab cake together—not to add flavor—so you can experiment with alternatives, such as panko, saltine crackers, or other crushed, buttery cracker crumbs.

2 Answers 2

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I think that if you used flour alone as a binder it will just make them sticky and glue-like in texture once heated.

The reason for that flour does this and cracker crumbs or bread crumbs don't is that the starch granules in raw flour and in crackers and bread are in different forms.

In the presence of water (and heat, which speeds the process up), starch granules absorb the liquid and burst, creating a gel-like substance. If you have ever made a sauce thickened with flour (or a simple flour glue/paste for children), then you have seen this in action. When making bread and crackers, the water content is low enough that the burst doesn't fully happen, and the starch interacts with the gluten in the flour to form a solid network. Both of these processes are non-reversible, which is why your bread and crackers don't dissolve into a gloop if you mix them into water or dip them in your soup.

I think (not having done this) that if you used the crab and bound with flour, at least in the central parts of the cake, the moisture driven out of the crab during cooking would be enough to gel the flour, whereas the breadcrumbs/crackers will retain their texture and produce the nice fluffy cake.

Edited to add: This has reached the "hot network questions" so a disclaimer here: This answer is my untested theory; one commenter (@chipbuster) tested with meatballs and found no gloop using an air-fryer. You also don't get gloop making things like fritters; which are made with flour and usually cooked similarly to crab cakes, though they are flatter, so heating is quicker... Feel free to test and comment and/or edit with your findings - or upvote @ChrisH 's answer if that is the right one.

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  • 1
    This is a good theory, but it's hard to endorse without someone trying it.
    – FuzzyChef
    Jul 19, 2023 at 23:16
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    @FuzzyChef : we could test it with small meatballs. I suspect that you’d end with something … not good
    – Joe
    Jul 19, 2023 at 23:19
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    Interestingly, and in favor of bob's theory: flour isn't used as a binder in meatball recipes, either.
    – FuzzyChef
    Jul 19, 2023 at 23:49
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    My housemate wanted to make a tomato meat pasta tonight, so I convinced him to do meatballs instead. I made my usual recipe and mixed everything else, then pulled out a small sample and added some flour and milk to it. I did my usual breadcrumbs and milk for others and a third with no binder and just the milk. I was very pessimistic about the flour meatballs since they felt like goop, but after 10 minutes in the air fryer, they had set up pretty much like the ones with breadcrumbs. My roommate even said he slightly preferred the flour ones, calling them slightly fluffier! [...]
    – chipbuster
    Jul 21, 2023 at 4:13
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    These meatballs got a little hotter than I'd usually take them (not super-dry, but a tiny bit drier than normal), which might have contributed to the similarity in textures, and they were air-fried instead of cooked in sauce, but the difference in the cooked meatball is much smaller than I would have expected going into this (and indeed, smaller than I expected after forming the meatballs!)
    – chipbuster
    Jul 21, 2023 at 4:15
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It's not for the reason you think. The issue is that the flour would still taste raw when you served them, and that's not very pleasant.

Because the crab meat is pre-cooked, crab cakes don't need much cooking. I haven't made them for years, and I think I used breadcrumbs, but my recollection, checked with a couple of recipes, is that they really cook quite quickly. The inside is only really heated through, not enough to cook flour.

If all you had was flour, no crumbs or crackers, cooking the flour first might be what you'd need.

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    This, which is also true of other seafood that needs a binder. Flour is fine on the outside of seafood, where it will contact the hot oil (or air) directly, but on the inside it doesn't have enough time to cook.
    – FuzzyChef
    Jul 19, 2023 at 23:18
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    It may also not be safe either. Crab should be cooked to 145F or so, but flour needs to hit 160F to kill off any bacteria that may be lurking in it. It's probably a very low risk (and the 160F thing is for instantaneous sterilization), but another reason to avoid using flour in that application.
    – vir
    Jul 20, 2023 at 19:16
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    @vir, worse than that, the crab meat has already been cooked to a safe temperature, and it's only getting reheated - I've only come across pre-cooked crab meat, and crab cake recipes that use it. But then I'd be lying if I said I'd never tasted raw cake mix /cookie dough
    – Chris H
    Jul 22, 2023 at 17:53

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