Spicy Crab Dip

A rendition of a traditional Maryland crab dip, inspired by the fiery Southeast Asian dish, Chili Crab

Photographs: Marvin Gapultos.

Why This Recipe Works

  • Minced Bird's Eye chile peppers along with some garlic and shallots introduces southeast Asian flavors to a dish born in Baltimore, Maryland.

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.

October 2012

Recipe Details

Spicy Crab Dip

Active 15 mins
Total 15 mins
Serves 10 to 12 servings

A rendition of a traditional Maryland crab dip, inspired by the fiery Southeast Asian dish, Chili Crab


  • 1 tablespoon canola oil

  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot (about 1 small)

  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 medium cloves)

  • 1 to 2 Bird's Eye chile peppers, thinly sliced, or 1 serrano chile pepper, deseeded and minced

  • 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons Sriracha hot sauce

  • 1 tablespoon fresh juice from 1 lime

  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce

  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar

  • 16 ounces canned crab meat, preferably unpasteurized, or flaked imitation crab meat (see note)

  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced

  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves, divided

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Heat the oil in a small skillet pan over medium high heat until shimmering. Add the shallots, garlic, and chili peppers and cook until the shallots soften and the garlic just begins to brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl and allow to cool completely.

  2. Add the cream cheese, mayonnaise, Sriracha, lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, crab meat, green onions, and half of the cilantro to the bowl and mix well until a homogenous dip is formed. Taste the dip, and season with salt and pepper as needed.

  3. To serve, transfer the dip to a clean serving bowl, or into individual ramekins, and garnish with the remaining cilantro. Serve with toast points, your favorite chips or crackers, or vegetable platter.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
194 Calories
16g Fat
3g Carbs
9g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 10 to 12
Amount per serving
Calories 194
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 16g 21%
Saturated Fat 8g 40%
Cholesterol 76mg 25%
Sodium 454mg 20%
Total Carbohydrate 3g 1%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 2g
Protein 9g
Vitamin C 3mg 16%
Calcium 76mg 6%
Iron 0mg 2%
Potassium 173mg 4%
*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.)