Food & Drink

High crab prices got you down? Gertrude chef John Shields adds tofu to stretch crab cakes to perfection

John Shields might be the only person who can get away with making a half-tofu crab cake.

He is, after all, the unofficial “Culinary Ambassador of the Chesapeake Bay,” the author of multiple cookbooks on Chesapeake cuisine, not to mention the owner of one of Baltimore’s beloved fine dining restaurants, Gertrude’s. That’s where Shields sells his “True Blue” certified crab cakes, so called because he uses mostly Maryland crab meat.


But recently, Shields and restaurant owners throughout Maryland have confronted a crab conundrum. Crabmeat is scarce and prices are higher than they’ve ever been — up to twice the usual price. So Shields has been getting creative, substituting locally-made tofu for half of the usual amount of crab.

Shields invited us into the kitchen during a recent lunchtime service where he prepared the dish and let us taste the results. We were impressed; the tofu was the perfect canvas for delicious lumps of blue crab meat fresh from the Eastern Shore. Just the thing to stretch out a $50 pound of local crab meat.


Gertie’s Crabfulicious Cakes

Given the sky-high price of crabmeat this summer I have been trying to figure out how to stretch the precious crustacean protein. The Crabfulicious cake is the delectable result. Firm tofu has an extremely similar texture and mouth-feel to crabmeat. It also takes on the flavor profile of whatever is paired with it. I used my grandmother, Gertie’s, recipe as the crab cake batter and mixed half Maryland crabmeat and half organic tofu. Check it out and watch your guests enjoy an outstanding crab cake at a fraction of the cost.

Serves 6 to 8, depending on the desired size of the cakes

2 eggs

6 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning

4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

3 dashes of Tabasco sauce

¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 pound lump Maryland crabmeat, picked over

1 pound firm or extra-firm crumbled tofu (preferably organic & local) *See Note


2/3 cup saltine cracker crumbs

Vegetable oil, for frying (optional)

Olive oil, for sautéing (optional)

Tartar sauce and lemon wedges for accompaniment

Mix the eggs, mayonnaise, mustards, pepper, Old Bay seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, and parsley together in a mixing bowl until frothy.

Place the crabmeat and crumbled tofu in a bowl and sprinkle over the cracker crumbs. Gently toss together using your hands. Pour the egg mixture over the top. Gently toss or fold the ingredients together, taking care not to break up any lumps of crab.


Form the cakes by hand, or with an ice cream scoop, into 16 mounds about 3 inches in diameter and ¾ of an inch thick. Do not pack the mixture too firmly. The cakes should be as loose as possible, yet still hold their shape. Place the cakes on a tray or platter lined with wax paper, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before cooking.


Pour oil into a heavy skillet to a depth of about 1 ½ inches. Heat the oil and fry the cakes, a few at a time, until golden brown, about 4 minutes on each side. Remove with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.


Heat a small amount of olive oil in a skillet and sauté the cakes, turning several times, until golden brown, about 8 minutes total on each side.



Lay cakes out on a broiler pan. Brush the top of the cakes with a little melted butter. Slip the cakes under a preheated broiler until nicely browned, turning to cook evenly, 3 or 4 minutes on each side.

NOTE: Use a firm, or extra-firm tofu for best results. Dry the blocks of tofu using paper towels or a clean dish towel, and press down firmly to remove as much moisture as possible. Cut the blocks in half, lengthwise, and dry again with towels. The tofu is now ready to crumble into crablike pieces.