The Spicy Way Padma Lakshmi Elevates Crab Cakes

A crab cake is a classic American staple in the summertime, with the sweetness of the crab standing out from the other ingredients. But with something as delicate as crab, former "Top Chef" host Padma Lakshmi balances the sweetness with a spicy ingredient to take her version of the dish back to her Indian heritage: hot green chilis.

At first thought, the idea of using something hot in spice level may seem counterintuitive, but it actually elevates the crab's flavor in the final cake. The process is simple. As Lakshmi revealed to Food & Wine, you simply add hot green chilis, like Serrano green chili peppers or jalapeños, to the crab, bread crumbs, celery, onion, flour, mayonnaise, or whatever ingredients go into your favorite crab cake, adjusting the amount of spice in the final crab cake to your tolerance and taste. The crisp bright heat of the chili pepper balances the sweetness in the crab, resulting in a delicious twist on a traditional classic. 

Green chili peppers add an Indian twist

Lakshmi's addition of spicy chilis to her crab cakes mimics the hot flavors from those found in Indian food, particularly in Kerala– the southwest part of India where she has roots. In that region of the country, crab dishes are prevalent and balance heat, sweetness, and acidity. While typically you see this interplay in crab dishes like curries, Lakshmi's translation of this flavor profile to a crab cake is a naturally delicious one.

If you're cautious about the spice blowing out your palate, one way to control the pepper's intensity is to take out the pith (or the whitish ribs). It's commonly believed that the seeds are the source of the heat, but in fact, the pith is where the true fire flavor comes from. By using this method, you're left with the floral and fruity essence of the pepper intact, with a desired level of spice. And depending on which type of chili pepper you use, spiciness may vary, even from serrano pepper to serrano pepper, so you could taste a little bit to gauge just how fiery your pepper is before using it in your dish.