Maryland Crab Imperial With Buttery Golden Bread Crumbs Recipe

Delightfully creamy and rich, crab imperial is as delicious as a Maryland crab cake, but a lot less fussy to make.

A blue baking dish holding golden brown Maryland Crab Imperial. The bottom left corner of the baking dish shows a metal spoon holding a spoonful of the crab, while on the lefthand side of the image is a light blue ceramic plate holding small pieces of bread, one of which has been topped with the crab.

Serious Eats / Qi Ai

Why It Works

  • A flavorful mayonnaise-based mixture binds tender pieces of crabmeat for a luxurious dip.
  • Tossing the bread crumbs with melted butter makes them brown more beautifully and improves their flavor.

People are funny about crab cakes. You can spend several hundred words explaining why a proper Maryland crab cake should have minimal breading and binders and a light-ish touch of flavorings and spices, and a select few are bound to come right back at you demanding just the opposite. "But they don't hold together!" they say. "You just need to handle them more delicately," you respond. "But the pieces of crab are too large!" they say. "That's precisely why they're special," you respond. "But it's too much crab and not enough bread and mayonnaise!" they say. "They're crab cakes, not bread cakes," you respond. "But they don't have enough spices and flavorings!" they say.

"Well, make crab imperial, in that case!" you respond.

Finished crab imperial in a white ceramic baking dish, with browned buttery bread crumbs on top

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

See, much of my family is from Maryland, and I grew up spending my summers there with my grandmother. My mother and aunt used to tear through the carapaces of three to four crabs in the time it took me to pick one—and I'm fast. That means I have deeply held opinions about crab cakes, and I'm not about to capitulate to the breadier, shreddier, mayonnais-ier, spicier crew. But I understand that we don't all want the same things, and I'm willing to offer what I think is a fine alternative: crab imperial.

I'd describe it as a hot crab dip, a crab casserole, or crab gratin: blue crabmeat tossed with a generous dose of mayonnaise; seasoned with Old Bay, onion or shallots, mustard, and lemon; and topped with buttery bread crumbs that turn golden in the oven. In essence, it takes all the things that would turn a crab cake into an overseasoned, dense, and pasty travesty, and finds a way to make the most of them.

Instead of acting as a leaden binder, the bread crumbs are toasty and crisp on top. Instead of making an overly wet and gloppy crab cake, the mayo makes a delightfully wet and gloppy dip (I mean that in the best way possible). Instead of overpowering the flavor of the sweet and tender hunks of lump crabmeat in a crab cake, the more generous spicing of crab imperial is a riot for the mouth, which means the dish doesn't require such prime lumps of meat. You can use a less expensive sampling of shreddier bits of picked meat, often sold as "special" grade.

A spoonful of crab imperial overlooking a casserole dish where it's taken from.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Making it is as simple as mixing together all the ingredients, putting the buttered bread crumbs on top, and cooking it in the oven until it's hot throughout and browned on top. Then go to town, dipping saltines or croutons or just a plain old spoon into it. I wouldn't dare tell you how to eat it.

August 2017

Recipe Facts



Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 20 mins
Active: 15 mins
Total: 35 mins
Serves: 4 to 6 servings

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  • 1 pound (450g) special or lump crabmeat, picked over for shells

  • 1/2 cup (115gmayonnaise

  • 2 tablespoons (30g) Dijon mustard

  • 2 teaspoons (10ml) fresh juice from 1 lemon, plus grated zest of half a lemon

  • 2 tablespoons (8g) minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning

  • 1 small shallot, finely minced (about 2 tablespoons)

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs (1 ounce; 30g)

  • 2 tablespoons (30g) unsalted butter, melted

  • Baguette toasts, saltines, or other crackers, for serving (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). In a medium bowl, stir together crabmeat, mayonnaise, Dijon, lemon juice and zest, parsley, Old Bay, and shallot until evenly incorporated. Season with salt and pepper.

    A two-image collage. The top image shows crabmeat, mayonnaise, Dijon, lemon juice and zest, parsley, Old Bay, and shallot inside of a mixing bowl. The bottom image shows all of the ingredients evenly incorporated inside of the bowl and seasoned with salt and pepper.

    Serious Eats / Qi Ai

  2. In a small bowl, stir bread crumbs with melted butter until evenly coated. Season with salt.

    Bread crumbs evenly coated in melted butter and seasoned with salt inside a small bowl.

    Serious Eats / Qi Ai

  3. Pack crab mixture in a 1-quart baking or gratin dish, then layer buttered bread crumbs evenly on top. Set on top of a rimmed baking sheet and bake until crab mixture is heated through and bread crumbs are golden, about 20 minutes. Serve with toasts or crackers, if desired.

    A two-image collage. The top image shows the crab mixture inside of a blue 1-quart baking dish. The bottom image shows the crab in the baking dish, now covered with an even layer of the buttered bread crumbs. The baking dish is inside of a sheet pan, which is being held by two hands.

    Serious Eats / Qi Ai

Special Equipment

Rimmed baking sheet, 1-quart gratin or baking dish

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
252 Calories
19g Fat
5g Carbs
15g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 252
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 19g 24%
Saturated Fat 5g 25%
Cholesterol 91mg 30%
Sodium 951mg 41%
Total Carbohydrate 5g 2%
Dietary Fiber 1g 2%
Total Sugars 1g
Protein 15g
Vitamin C 5mg 26%
Calcium 89mg 7%
Iron 1mg 5%
Potassium 240mg 5%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)