Growing up in the Midwest, crab was a rare treat—a couple of times a year I'd get to order crab cakes at a fancy restaurant or my dad would bring home a few pounds of king crab legs. Crab doesn't come cheap, so even as an adult I mostly eat it on special occasions and try to make the most of it. From classics like Maryland crab cakes and fried soft-shell crab to crab-filled versions of fried rice and guacamole, keep reading for 18 of our favorite recipes that make crab worth the splurge.
Soft-Shell Crab Recipes
Soft-shell crab is one my favorite seasonal specialties. Here, it's fried and sandwiched on a toasted bun with lettuce and tomato. We use a fairly thin beer batter and only dredge the crabs once so that they come out with a light, crackly crust. Resist the urge to buy cleaned soft-shell crabs—they decay rapidly after they're killed, so you should buy them live and dispatch them yourself.
This elevated take on the soft-shell crab sandwich reinforces the flavor of raw tomatoes with a salsa made from oven-dried tomatoes, olive oil, basil, and red wine vinegar. Rather than frying the crabs, we dredge them in flour that's been seasoned with Old Bay and sauté them in butter until nicely browned.
A cross between the Cantonese dish of crabs sautéed with ginger and scallions and Vietnamese banh mi, this sandwich pairs soft-shell crab with ginger-chili mayo, quick-pickled carrots and cucumbers, fresh scallions, and cilantro, all served on a lightly toasted baguette. Rather than dredging the crab in flour, we use cornstarch to give it a lighter, shatteringly crisp shell.
Some dishes are best served simple, and this soft-shell crab is a perfect example. There's very little of the limited-season delicacy you can't eat, and it takes little more than a light dredge and gentle sauté to get it on the table. The crisp-shelled crabs are finished with a simple pan sauce made up of browned butter, frizzled capers, lemon juice, and parsley.
Hard-Shell Crab Recipes
This should sound obvious, but we want our crab cakes to taste like crab. Lots of recipes go heavy on starchy binders, which both reduce the amount of expensive meat you need and keep the patties from falling apart. To keep our crab cakes together with less filler, we freeze them in aluminum foil before cooking, peeling it off only after they've started to set. Breading only one side provides just enough crunch while letting the flavor of the crab shine.
We think our last recipe is plenty crab-forward, but a crab cake purist might not agree. This recipe uses an even lower ratio of bread crumbs to crab (just 1/2 cup of panko for a pound of lump blue crabmeat) and skips the breading stage entirely. We season the patties lightly with mustard, Worcestershire, paprika, hot sauce, salt, and black pepper to give them a little extra flavor without covering up the crab.
Crab imperial takes the things that people complain about with crab cakes—heavy doses of mayo, seasonings, and bread crumbs—and uses them to make a creamy crab dip. Because the dip is so well-seasoned, you can use "special" grade crabmeat rather than lump, making the dish cheaper than crab cakes. Serving with saltines is traditional, but I'll look the other way if you decide to eat it with a spoon, instead.
Eggs en cocotte is an elegant breakfast dish made by baking eggs in individual ramekins with a variety of other ingredients. This version is inspired by crab imperial. First, we line the bottoms of the ramekins with a mixture of crabmeat, mayonnaise, mustard, parsley, and scallions. Then we crack in the eggs and top it off with a splash of heavy cream.
If you love classic Italian-American stuffed shells with ricotta and tomato sauce, try this seafood-forward version. We stuff the pasta with crabmeat, shrimp, and scallops, and bake it with a creamy béchamel. With the crabmeat, mayo, bread crumbs, and a dash of Old Bay seasoning the dish ends up tasting like crab cakes stuffed into shells, and who wouldn't want that?
Looking for a lighter pasta dish? This summery one-pot recipe pairs lump crabmeat with zucchini and cherry tomatoes. We cook the vegetables briefly to soften the squash and burst the tomatoes, then add vegetable stock to make a sauce. Cooking the pasta just halfway in boiling water and finishing it in the sauce lets the noodles pick up tons of flavor.
Loosely inspired by Marea's spaghetti with crab, sea urchin, and basil, this dish features a spicy vodka-cream sauce made with hot red chilies. Incorporating the crabmeat is as simple as folding it into the finished sauce, being gentle so as not to break it up too much. A last-minute shower of toasted breadcrumbs gives the dish some textural contrast.
Once you are familiar with our rules for fried rice, you can start to experiment with add-ins to make the dish your own. For inspiration, check out the Thai dish khao phat buu, which is made with Jasmine rice, crabmeat, garlic, chilies, scallions, and fish sauce. It's traditional to serve the dish with sliced cucumber, and I like to add a few extra Thai bird chilies on the side, as well.
Hairy crabs are a delicacy in Shanghai, but unfortunately they're nearly impossible to find in the US. To make this traditional Mid-Autumn Festival dish, you're going to have to substitute some other variety of small crab (fortunately, it will still be delicious). All you need to do to the crabs is clean them off and steam them, then serve with a dipping sauce flavored with Chinkiang vinegar and ginger.
One of the most iconic Singaporean dishes, chili crab is a wonderfully messy concoction of crab cooked in a tomato sauce that is flavored with shallots, ginger, garlic, and chilies, and thickened with egg and cornstarch. Our recipe calls for four Thai chilies for two crabs, but part of the fun of making chili crab at home is that you can adjust the spice level to your own liking.
If you're already a fan of Singaporean chili crab, there's a good chance you'll love crab masala, too. This Indian dish is also made with a tomato base, which we flavor with a paste made from chopped onion, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, dried chili, peppercorns, cloves, ginger, garlic, and fennel seeds. After making the sauce we add in the crab, cook for about 15 minutes, and serve with rice or naan.
When my family wanted Chinese food a step up from the buffet, we'd head to a local restaurant serving elevated versions of Americanized Chinese food. The meal always started with an appetizer platter with classics like potstickers, egg rolls, and, of course, crab rangoon. I rarely eat that kind of food these days, but I still have a place in my heart for those fried wontons stuffed with crabmeat and cream cheese and served with sweet-and-sour sauce.
For a little Mexican-Maryland fusion, try giving guacamole a twist with jumbo lump crabmeat and Old Bay seasoning—the briny crab and creamy avocado work fantastically well together. The recipe starts with our basic guacamole, which pairs avocado with onion, chili, and cilantro leaves. We mash half of the aromatics into a paste for a more intense flavor and leave the rest in bigger pieces for texture.
For most of us, crab is reserved for special occasions, not eaten all the time. So when we do buy and cook crabs, we want to go all out. This recipe is easily adaptable depending on how many guests you're feeding, but the basic idea remains the same. To cook the crabs, pile them into a steamer basket over steaming beer and vinegar in a pot, and dust them with Old Bay as you add more to the pot. Once they're done cooking, serve the crabs in the pot alongside cold beers, or pour them out onto a newspaper-lined table. The mess is half the fun.
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