Bar Bites: Spicy Crab Dip

Photographs: Marvin Gapultos

In the Grand Hierarchy of Dips (if there were such a thing), Crab Dip perhaps lies near the bottom of the totem pole— well below the likes of salsa, guacamole, onion dip, spinach dip, and even ranch.

But as anyone from Maryland can perhaps attest, there are tastier, and more interesting, options with which to anoint that crudité platter or bag of chips. Like, say, a creamy dip made from tangy cream cheese and sweet crab meat. As shown by the likes of Crab Rangoon, cream cheese and crab meat can be a formidable and flavorful duo.

For my rendition of a traditional Maryland crab dip, I was actually inspired by the fiery Southeast Asian dish of Chili Crab, wherein fresh whole crabs are bathed and cooked in a spicy sauce of chiles and aromatics. To mimic that spice in my crab dip, I sautéed some minced Bird's Eye chile peppers along with some garlic and shallots. Everything is then mixed with softened cream cheese, a touch of mayo, a heavy squirt of Sriracha, some cilantro, green onions, lime juice, fish sauce, and crab meat.

Although there's nothing quite like crab meat freshly picked from the shell, there's no shame in using canned crab meat, or even imitation crab, for this recipe. Instead of choosing just any packaged crab meat off the shelf, better brands of canned crab meat can be found in the refrigerated section of the fish counter at most grocery stores. Although not fresh, these refrigerated and packaged crab meat options provide enough sweet crab flavor, and texture, without being overpowered by the tanginess of the cream cheese or the heat of the chiles. The spiciness of the dip can also be easily ratcheted up or down by decreasing or omitting the chile peppers and/or Sriracha. But you could always put the fire out in your mouth with your choice of cool beverage.

The final dip is a Baltimore by way of Singapore concoction that is spicy and creamy with that "of the sea" flavor provided by the crab meat—a combination of flavors that will surely benefit any carrot stick, cracker, or chip. And if there's any crab dip leftover, I'm not one to flinch at spreading it between two slices of bread and calling the monstrosity a sandwich. There's no shame in that either.