Crab Cakes Sauces: The Flavors to Make a Regional Classic Shine
Light and flakey, breaded cakes filled with delicate chunks of sweet crab meat and a gentle spice – such a luxurious treat.
Crab cakes are a long-time favorite – from the mid-Atlantic coastal region to the rest of the America – and for very good reason.
They’re simultaneously delicate and indulgent and they evoke the languid, long days of summer like no other food.
Grill them up for a lightly smoky finish or sauté them for a crispy exterior to envelop that light interior. Start with traditional Chesapeake blue crab or go west for some Dungeness crab.
But the best place for seeking variety in your crab cake indulgence is in your choice of sauces.
Sure, the crab meat, the subtle spice, and the flakey texture are the piece de resistance, the very heart of the crab cake.
But the sauce is the strong shoulders and arms, the bend-at-the-knees heavy-lifter of this classic dish. Without the right sauce, this magnificent meal doesn’t rise to the heights it deserves.
So, choosing the perfect crab cake sauce deserves thought and attention. There are no shortage of choices.
Tartar sauces, cocktail sauces, remoulades, and other mayonnaise-based dressings are traditional and classic choices for crab cakes.
And truly, there are a world of variations you can do with these sauces.
Add a bit of spice from mustard or horseradish, sriracha or chipotle. Use more briny ingredients like capers, or different herb and spice combinations.
But, there’s no reason not to branch out into other realms too.
Fish loves acid from citrus like lime and fresh herb and spice touches. Brightening the dish with hints of acid and heat in your sauce naturally leads into Asian-influenced sauces and dips.
Just imagine the bright, fresh flavors of Thai cuisine blending with the texture and gentle sweetness of your crab cake.
Yup. This is one place where fusion cuisine can really work.
Sauce for Crab Cakes: Our Inspiring List
So, let’s break out of those mallets, grab some seafood cracking tools, and add a heap of Old Bay spice, because it’s time to make some crab cakes. And we have a world of sauces for you to consider.
1. Tartar Sauce
We’re a firm believer in pickle juice. It’s salty, briny, and is a “one ingredient” powerhouse that’s actually packed with 3 to 5 different ingredients.
We know, right? How cool is that?
It’s all there to round out whatever creamy or sweet or savory thing you throw at it.
Hello, ingredient cornucopia. Consider yourself rounded.
And when it’s featured in a recipe with finely diced pickles, capers, and fruity olive oil – well, we’re down with that.
Grab Leanna’s recipe for tartar sauce that will make your crab cakes revel in a special sauce all unto their own at The Hungry Waitress.
2. Spicy Mustard Mayonnaise Sauce
Sometimes we like canned crab.
And when we go old school, we like our crab cake sauces to be a little pantry-based and unshowy.
Because when you’re working with the best fresh ingredients you just want to let them shine.
Hello, fresh crab. Meet a spicy mustard sauce with ingredients we have in our fridge and spice drawer.
You all will adore each other on a Wednesday night.
Grab the recipe from Erin at The Wooden Skillet.
3. Cocktail Sauce
Cocktail sauce isn’t just for shrimp.
It’s also an incredible sauce for sweet and delicate crab cakes.
Shrimp doesn’t hoard the amazing flavors of chili sauce, horseradish, and other savory goodness whisked together in a bowl.
It’s magnanimous like that.
Shrimp likes to share with its pal, crab.
And crab agrees – not every crab cakes sauce has to be exclusive to crab cakes.
How lucky is that?
Grab a fantastic recipe for cocktail sauce for crab cakes, and revel in the pure joy of spice, earthiness, and citrus at Baked Bree.
4. Maryland Crab Cakes with Horseradish Sriracha Remoulade
“You know what doesn’t get paired together enough?” we asked ourselves.
“Apple cider, horseradish, hot sauce, and lemon,” came the answer.
We nodded sagely in agreement, and then ruminated on the idea of those bright and spicy flavors.
“Those do sound like they’d be perfect with delicate crab.”
Then we went off in search of a recipe that would fulfill the idea in our imagination.
And we stumbled on Morgan’s recipe at Host the Toast. This is a fun variation on a remoulade sauce for crab cakes.
Trust us, your crab cakes will adore this recipe.
Tart and briny from pickles and capers.
Bright from lemon and parsley.
A remoulade sauce makes everything and anything involving crab just taste… even more delicious than anyone can possibly imagine.
Michelle at Brown Eyed Baker has the recipe that crab cakes want to just hang out with on the plate.
You and your crab cakes will happily revisit this classic for dinner. Grab the recipe and all its deliciousness.
6. Russian Dressing
It’s a magical secret sauce that envelops everything it coats in sweet and savory deliciousness.
It’s also the perfect sauce to dollop on crab cakes.
Homemade Russian dressing is creamy with a bit of heat and a pop of color that makes it the perfect sauce for crab cake adoration.
We like Sheila’s recipe for this classic at Life Love and Good Food.
7. Horseradish Dijon Aioli
Just a kiss of horseradish is enough to take crab cakes to where they want to go.
And that place is a flavorful dipping sauce that’s insanely addictive.
Granted that’s not an actual “place.”
It’s more a state of mind.
Yes. That’s a delicious dipping sauce.
Horseradish has heat, and dijon has tang.
Between the two, crab cakes metaphorically sit in the “lotus position” and just drink in the world around them.
Perfection and enlightenment indeed.
Grab the recipe from Erica at Erica’s Recipes.
8. Cilantro and Lime Dipping Sauce
We love the flavors of cilantro and lime. They’re just insanely sunny and bright.
They’re a parasol in a cocktail on the beach.
They’re sand between your toes.
They’re wearing sunglasses at sunset.
They’re just that overwhelmingly visceral.
So, of course crab cakes love those flavors too.
And you’ll love this dipping sauce for crab cakes. There’s gonna be a lot of love going around.
Speaking of love, we love Katie’s recipe for cilantro and lime dipping sauce over at Katies Cucina.
9. Thai Sweet Chili Sauce
We love our crab cakes drizzled with sauces full of heat, a little tang, and a little sweetness. So, when they’re combined on the plate they simply sing with joy.
And it doesn’t hurt if the sauce is picturesque too.
“Well, that is pretty as a picture!”
Crunchy crab cakes adore being paired with sauces that are slatherable, and who are we to argue with that?
And we found a fun sauce that brings the bright and lively flavors of Thai cooking to the forefront of the plate, while still letting crab cakes shine in adoration.
Grab the recipe from Leela at She Simmers for all the crab cake-ey goodness.
10. Honey Wasabi Sauce
Because crab cakes are so delicate and mildly sweet, we thought pairing them with honey and heat might make the perfect sauce.
Especially if the sauce has a slight Asian flavor from wasabi.
Wasabi rules! (That may just be us, but it really does make everything perfect in the world.)
This creamy bouncy sauce that we found from Sushi Chef Kai fits the bill amazingly well.
Your crab cakes want this sauce. You want this sauce.
We all want this quick to pull together sauce on the table ASAP.
Just the name sounds like singing.
And it makes our crab cakes hum a happy tune, too.
And the dill. Oh, the dill.
We love this cucumber sauce because it’s so fresh and bright. And dipping crab cakes into the sauce makes it nearly reverberate off the fork in pure anticipation.
We found a fantastic recipe from Marjorie over at A Pinch of Healthy.
12. Creamy Red Pepper Sauce
Lightly smoky, creamy, and sweet, we love a good red pepper sauce. Especially with delicate crab cakes.
The flavors give crab cakes a slightly Spanish twist, especially if there’s smoked paprika in involved.
And there should always be smoked paprika involved.
As with most of the sauce ideas here, only put them on the crab cakes you’re going to eat in that meal. Later when you reheat your crab cakes, you want them sans sauce obviously.
We found a recipe from AnneMarie at Just a Little Bit of Bacon that made us stop, pause, and go back to take a second look.
Yes. This is the creamy pepper sauce we were looking for.
13. Tomatillo Jalapeno Aioli
We love our sauces to not just bolster the crab cakes, but to make them even more irresistible than they already are.
Is such a thing possible?
Well, it certainly is when there’s bright tomatillos and spicy jalapenos involved with mayo and sour cream.
Oh, and there’s lime too.
That’s pretty cool.
We knew that we wanted a kick of heat and sassy citrus with our crab cakes and we found it.
Grab the astoundingly delicious recipe from Jen at Carlsbad Cravings.
Crab Cake Sauce: Make Your Own or Own A Bottle?
So, we’ve dug deep into some ideas for saucing your crab cakes in exciting ways.
But maybe you’re looking for a way to save a little bit of time and want to know the best premade sauces to go with your crab cakes?
Because, let’s face it, while it might be nice to have bragging rights about that fancy chipotle aioli that you made fresh yourself from fresh eggs, will anyone really be the wiser if you just mix a few extra ingredients into bottled mayo?
Not many people are going to complain, and you’ll save a world of time. A great aioli sauce for crab cakes can begin with humble roots.
The basic lesson here is, don’t be afraid to start with a premade sauce and doctor it to your needs.
Remoulades, tartar sauces, cocktail sauces, are all great examples of the power of this approach.
Don’t hesitate to start with a base – whether it be mayonnaise, sour cream, or some other ubiquitous favorite – and add bottled ingredients like sriracha, tabasco, citrus juices, vinegar, or other hot sauces and pickled elements.
If you taste as you go, you can come up with some great and innovative ideas. Follow your palate. Trust your palate. Use the force, young padawan. You’ve got this.
Going “Full Bottled”?
Or in a pinch, if you’re just trying to get something on the table in a flash, should you skip the doctoring phase and go straight to prefab options?
We say there’s no shame here. It’s all about flavors and how they play against your main dish. And how you pick them.
Again, as with all cooking, tasting is important even – or perhaps especially – when using prefab ingredients.
Don’t just slather a bottled sauce that you’ve never tasted on top of your lovingly-crafted crab cakes. Taste a bit of the bottled sauce with a bit of your crab cake.
Maybe it’s great as is. It’s possible it won’t work at all. Or perhaps you’ll want to tweak it just a little bit – a squeeze of lemon here, a pinch of Old Bay there, or a drop of hot sauce everywhere. You get the picture.
Sauces to Match Your Sides
Another thing to consider when deciding on your sauce is actually about what your sides are. Consider all the flavors and textures that will be on your plate.
This broader perspective can help pull everything together into a cohesive whole.
For instance, if you’re crab cakes are begging for a side of French fries and you love ketchup on your fries, a sauce that incorporates tomato or ketchup could be just the thing.
Think a remoulade or even a quick tomato-based hot sauce.
One of our suggestions for crab cakes side dishes here was a mango salsa.
We stand by that recommendation whole-heartedly – as either a side or as a sauce. Perhaps beside a bowl of mango gazpacho?
If you’re serving a coleslaw with a vinaigrette base, maybe try to lean into pickled or vinegar elements in your sauce.
All of this is really just to reinforce the important role that the perfect sauce can play in your crab-centric dinner.
A crab cake sauce really can pull your meal’s flavors together beautifully and we hope we’ve helped you do just that.