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~ Crab-ilicious! Maryland Jumbo Lump Crab Imperial~

IMG_0980Back in the early 1980's, a couple in our Penn State tailgate group introduced Joe and I to crab imperial.  Until that Fall Saturday morning, I had never even heard of it, let alone tasted it.  We were at a pre-game brunch hosted in the home of folks I barely knew, and, we weren't even official members of this tailgate group yet.  The hostess served it piping hot in a large, shallow oval dish, as a dip with crackers.  I fell in love with it immediately.  I wish I would have been bold enough to ask for the recipe that night, but, I did not.  I have never made that mistake again.   

IMG_0922Back then I was about 24 years old, and, when I set out to find a recipe, I was shocked to find out that my beloved Joy of Cooking did not contain a recipe for crab imperial. How could a recipe with the word "imperial" in it been overlooked by Ms. Rombauer.  So, I let if fall by the wayside.  (FYI:  Back in those days, there was no internet, and, no Food Network either.)   Then, a few years later, I came across a small book called The Chesapeake Bay Crab Cookbook, which was being sold locally at the seafood counter of our O.W. Houts & Sons grocery store/butcher shop.  To my glee, between pages 69 and 71, there were five recipes to choose from, and, it was from these I came up with my version of crab imperial.

IMG_0997A bit about crab imperial:  It's a classic American dish made by combining crabmeat with a flour-based white sauce or mayonnaise.  Traditionally it is spooned into crab or scallop shells, topped with breadcrumbs, then baked until golden brown.  The dish was invented by Colonial Americans who settled in and around the Chesapeake Bay.  During this period, flour was quite expensive and hard to come by, so, flour-based sauces were an indication of high social status, hence the name "imperial".  Modern versions of this dish contain bell peppers, spices and/or pepper sauce, and, are topped with parmesan cheese.  To quote Mom Kimmel on page 70 of TCBCC: "You ever see all those things they put in them fancy seafood seasonings?  Only thing they left out is the sand.  And, I'll never understand putting all those bell peppers in imperial. They're too potent and overpower the taste of the crab!"  I can't say I agree with all of Mom Kimmel's comments, but, she's the basis for my crab imperial, so I'm giving her due credit. 















1  large egg, at room temperature

1/2  cup mayonnaise

1  teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce

1/2  teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2  teaspoon dry English mustard

1/2  teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning

1/2  teaspoon sugar

1  tablespoon all-purpose flour or Wondra flour

1/4  cup minced fresh parsley

1  pound jumbo lump crabmeat, the best available

ground red pepper, for topping imperial

4, small, fresh lemon wedges, for garnish and squeezing juice onto finished imperial

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing au gratin dishes

IMG_0938~ Step 1.  In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, mayonnaise, cayenne pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, Old Bay Seasoning and sugar, until smooth Some recipes refer to this mixture as "imperial sauce."  

Note:  This is my favorite blend of flavors, but feel free to taste and adjust the seasonings to suit you.  

IMG_0941~ Step 2.  Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold in the flour, parsley and the crab meat until the mixture is thoroughly combined. The crabmeat must remain in large lumps.  Set aside 5-10 minutes.

~ Step 3.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper. Spray 4, 6-ounce au gratin dishes with no-stick cooking spray.

IMG_0963~ Step 4.  Using a large slotted spoon, equally portion crab mixture into the prepared au gratin dishes. Portion and pour the creamy liquid remaining in the bowl evenly between the four dishes.  Lightly sprinkle the tops with cayenne pepper.

~ Step 5.  Bake on center rack of 350 degree oven 18-20 minutes, or until puffy, set and lightly browned. Cool, 5-10 minutes prior to serving:

IMG_0965Crab-ilicious!  Maryland Jumbo Lump Crab Imperial:  Recipe yields 4 servings.

IMG_1005Special Equipment List:  whisk; cutting board, chef's knife; large rubber spatula;  17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; 4, 6-ounce, individual-sized au gratin dishes, or, 1, 9" round au gratin dish (pictured on the left), or, a 9" round, glass pie dish; large slotted spoon 

6a0120a8551282970b0148c856cdd8970c-800wiCook's Note:  Looking for an appetizer for your next tailgate or holiday party?  Serve my recipe for ~ Spicy, Miniature Eastern Shore-Style Crab Cakes ~.  You can find it in Categories 1, 11 or 14.  

Rule #1.  If you want a party to be a success, serve crab cakes!  Rule #2.  You can never make too many crab cakes.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)


Yes it is Denise!

Is it possible to make this a day ahead, up to step 2?

BB -- I am so pleased you found the recipe & little old me!

I've been searching the internet for hours for this exact recipe no variations. Thank you so much!

Elaine -- I am so pleased you enjoyed my tale. I did not know that John Shields is a local hero. Thank-you so much for passing that along! ~ Melanie

OMG - Your story is adorable! I am from Baltimore, MD and have had or made crab dishes my whole life. I laughed out loud at your 30+ year 'quest' for crab imperial. FYI - John Shields is a local hero. Love him.

Linda -- I know EXACTLY what you're talking about. It's absolutely great as a topper on white fish or seafood (like butterflied shrimp). Haven't had rock fish in ages. Sigh. ~ Mel.

I love this and grew up eating it on the eastern shore of Maryland,,, I also use it a a topper or stuffing for rock fish ,,, and local favorite

Thank you! I'm afraid now that I found your site, I could pack on 10 lbs!

Marilyn! When I serve this as an entree, I serve it with a simply dressed salad (I use my recipe for white balsamic vinaigrette) of baby bibb lettuce, tomato & cucumber. I make garlic toasts (made from a baguette) and serve white or sparkling wine. It makes for a very elegant ladies luncheon menu!

Mel, If you serve this as an entree, what do you serve with it? Rice,a salad? Would you have to break the crab up a bit to serve as an appetizer with crackers or bread? I just love crab meat served any way! Thanks...

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