Monday, January 24, 2011

Gluten-Free Crab Cake Review: Handy GF Crab Cakes

After thinking about it, I realized I had not enjoyed a crab cake since I first went gluten-free quite a few years ago.  In previous times, I enjoyed good crab cakes at restaurants (never made them myself), and once I had to give up gluten in my diet, I gave up crabcakes too since I figured I would not find a satisfactory gluten-free option ever again.   Thankfully, times have changed, and I am pleased to have found an excellent option: Handy (brand) Gluten-Free Crab Cakes.  

You have probably seen the Handy brand before (they are well known and in many stores), but the certified gluten-free variety of their crab cakes is a new addition to their product line, and a very delicious one at that!  These new gluten-free crabcakes were brought to market by Handy International in December 2010 as what they claim to be the first gluten-free and certified-GF (GFCO; i.e., less than 10ppm gluten) crabcake on the market.  I welcome the gluten-free product, and its certified status is certainly a nice product feature that I wish more companies would get on board with for Celiac-friendly options.

The Product: Packaging and Ingredients
These lovely gluten-free crabcakes come in a 6-pack format with each individual crab cake being a 3-ounce cake (for 18 ounces total).  So, you get over a pound of high-quality crabcakes per package.  And, upon further examination, those 6 crabcakes are packaged within the box as 3 sleeves of 2 crab cakes, which I thought was a wonderful detail -- you can take out a package of 2 frozen crabcakes without breaking the seal to the remaining ones.  This is very "handy" indeed!  :)

The formula for their gluten-free crab cakes recipe looks pretty much like what you'd expect if you were making your own crabcakes.  The formula is quite simple and what appears to be quality ingredients.  And, just by looking at the cakes, you can immediately discern nice chunks of crab meat - which is the most important part of course (and, crab meat shows as the first ingredient; a good sign!)  I have heard that, since posting this ingredient-list on their website, that the product has been made dairy-free too... but, you may want to check into that on the actual package you purchase.

Preparation & Cooking (Frying or Baking)
The first thing I must say is that baking these things could not be much simpler: just thaw the gluten-free crabcakes you plan to bake, then follow the instructions on the box for frying, baking, or whatever.   We placed ours into a cast-iron pan and baked them in the oven (the whole process takes less than 1/2 hour).  Here is a picture of them shortly after we got underway with the baking process...

The end result was quite nice, though we made ours on a cloudy day and with artificial lighting I was unable to get a picture that I really liked, so.... here is a picture that Handy had on their website, and I do think it accurately represents the results you can achieve baking or frying your own.  This IS what they look like, and they have a lovely texture with lots of crab meat throughout:
Handy (brand) gluten--free crabcake
Handy (brand) gluten--free crabcake

Taste, Texture, and Satisfaction Evaluation
WOW! These really are quite wonderful!

Those chunks of sweet white crab are delicious, and the remaining ingredients in the crabcake are just enough to beautifully complement the crab meat.  If I had these crab cakes at a restaurant, I would be quite pleased - they are top notch and reminded me of some crab cakes I had years ago.  I have tried both baking and frying these crab cakes.  Each method works just fine and delivers a pleasing result.  I was able to get a delightfully crispy surface by frying them, but that of course introduces extra calories from the oil used in the pay.

I enjoyed the subtle seasonings they used, and my *only* complaint is that I find them slightly salty by the time I have finished an entire crab cake (we rarely add salt to anything, so commercial / restaurant foods are generally salty to me).

My wife and I found the 3-ounce portion to be ideal.  I think these would make a great appetizer item for both home and restaurant settings.  I can see them coming in quite handy (nice brand name it turns out) for parties and gatherings where you want to serve something rather impressive without the fuss of making it from scratch.  These crab cakes are almost certain to be a hit with anyone that enjoys crab - I have to believe that caterers with Celiac or gluten-free clients in mind will find these to be a great service option.

Where to Purchase + Price / Cost Discussion
Please, read this section entirely if you are interested in these.  The Handy gluten-free crab cake price varies CONSIDERABLY based on where you obtain them - they range from moderately priced to extremely and ridiculously expensive depending where you get them.

The EXPENSIVE way to get these...
Handy Gluten-Free Crab Cakes are available online at the company's dedicated  Gluten-Free Crab cake website, but I suggest you check your local store first. The reason I say to check your local grocery store(s) first is quite simply that the price at Handy's online-orders website is may be a bit out of range of the average consumer, especially after you add FedEx shipping (which requires dry-ice packing no doubt), but still, OH MY! Handy seems aware of how prohibitive this pricing is, and they too encourage you to shop locally for the product if possible (they have a web page listing stores where available - click the "buy locally" tab at the top of their site for list).

If you have no other option, perhaps... and, here are the online options Handy offers:
  • $25.99 for a package of 6 crabcakes : (i.e., a cost of $4.33 each); add shipping yet!
  • $47.99 for a package of 12 crab cakes : at a price of $4.17/each, without shipping added yet!

The more reasonably AFFORDABLE way to get these...
See if your local grocery store has them!  In the Houston, TX area, I quickly checked at the local H.E.B. store and found these Handy Gluten-Free crab cakes, but only in a *2-pack*.  HEB offered the box of 2 gluten-free crab cakes for $7.99 - or, essentially $4.00/crabcake, which to me sounded reasonable compared to the cost of a crab cake at a restaurant or such.  And, because they are high quality cakes full of tasty crab meat, this did not sound too out of line with the price of just purchasing crab meat on its own.

But, here is my problem with the Gluten-Free (version) pricing: why are these crab cakes so much more than Handy's own "normal" (non-gluten-free) version of the same crabcakes? Each contains the same crab meat (the most expensive part), coupled with a bit of other binder-ingredients and seasonings.  So, why can CostCo offer the 6-pack of *regular* (i.e., with-gluten) Handy Crabcakes for only $13.89 (i.e., $2.48 per crab cake?)  Volume?

If I could buy the Handy gluten-free crabcakes at CostCo for the same price of the "regular" (gluten-containing version), it'd be a "no-brainer" for me, and I'd have them much more often.  But, the cheapest option I have seen for the gluten-free version is a full 60% more.  That seems like a substantial premium for just swapping out some breadcrumbs with a gluten-free variety.  Though, I guess there is the cost of certification (GF) and the lesser volume production, right?  Handy's web site shows Costco carrying the gluten-free varieties, but ONLY in Hawaii and some California locations (hopefully that changes to include more locations).  I will purchase these, for now, at our local HEB store on occasion, as the $4/crab-cake price is not TOO bad, and they are quite tasty.

If you are lucky enough to live near a local store that carries the Handy Gluten-Free crabcakes, they are most definitely worth trying if you enjoy crab meat. This product has given me back a once-favored restaurant menu item, now in the form of a crab cake that is safe for my gluten-free diet, and in a form I can prepare quickly and enjoy whenever I want.

I wish the product was made in the USA, but I am not going to over-analyze the offshore production of this product (they are made in Thailand).  The fact is, I regularly use super-fine Asian flours (tapioca, white rice and sweet rice especially) sourced from Thailand in my Gluten-Free Desserts baking - I get those at local Asian markets. Seafood is a different  thing altogether perhaps (since water quality issues come into play), but if that is where the fresh Blue Crab meat (used in these crabcakes) is available in sufficient quantities for producing these items, so be it.  When I queried Handy International's contact about the overseas-sourcing and any concerns with the quality, this is what they respond with:
"We subject ourselves to independent testing by Silliker, a top inspection firm used by Whole foods and Costco. Handy’s plants have received Silliker’s gold certificate – an achievement only the top 10% of inspected companies achieve. Handy is also a founding member of the National Fisheries Institute’s Crab Council, a groundbreaking group focused on creating a more sustainable seafood offering, and works diligently to provide the most consistent high quality products the crab community has to offer.”

I am personally OK with this representation of quality testing, and I will continue to consume their product.

Bottom line: a great new option for my gluten-free diet!  Delicious crab cakes anytime I want them :)

Continue to read this Gluten-Free Blog for all sorts of gluten-free recipes, product-reviews, and related information. In addition, visit my Gluten-Free Recipes Site where many of the recipes I have featured on this blog are available.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Gluten-Free Chocolate Cheesecake for the New Year

One of my favorite simple recipes to start the New Year out with is a Gluten-Free Chocolate Cheesecake.  I love cheesecakes, and it always amazes me how most all commercial cheesecakes manage to include some type of wheat and gluten in them, even though from my experience I can create any cheesecake I want without gluten.  The only "flour" in this cheesecake is cocoa. It is too bad I can not simply go to the store, or a restaurant, and order a slice of cheesecake that is safe for Celiacs.  So, in the meantime I bake one of these cakes at least once per year to treat myself (and others) to a fantastic GF cheesecake - my gluten-free diet must contain cheesecake on occasion: that is non-negotiable.

This cake recipe is straight out of our Gluten-Free Desserts cookbook (page 30), and it yields a nice thick and rich and creamy dessert that can also be kept frozen if you want to save part of it for a later date (which I did, after I at nearly half of this beast myself over a week's time). This cake will serve a nice sized party, since it weighs nearly 5# (it fills a 10-inch round springform pan to the brim); 3.5 pounds of that weight is from the cheeses in this delicious treat!  I just cut the chilled cake into pieces, wrap those pieces in plastic wrap, place those into freezer baggies, and freeze them until I want to thaw and eat more (after my recent mass consumption spree, it may be June until I get a piece out again. lol)

The cake makes a perfect recipe even for inexperienced bakers, presuming you have a decent mixer that can handle the pile of cheeses and other ingredients (our Kitchenaid works just fine).  I create the crust and get that pre-baked while mixing the cheesecake filling.  Total prep-time is no more than 1/2hr, and then another 70minutes of baking time.   Cool the cake overnight, and it is ready for eating by you and/or anyone else you would like to share it with.

Couple this cake with your New Years exercise plan, and it will work out even better :)