Crab Imperial, Baltimore Style
Here is the piece de resistance of Chesapeake Bay blue Crab dishes. Basically, an imperial is a richly spiced crab casserole that is served in individual portions. It is reserved for the most special of family occasions and is the showpiece selection at fine Chesapeake dinnerhouses. Restaurant reputations are often made—and unmade—on the basis of their success with this dish.
Want to start a fight? Ask two or more Marylander how to make the best crab imperial. The answer is a matter of fierce family pride and, in most cases, involves a recipe passed through countless, generations. After several such scuffles, I arrived at the version of the fabled preparation. You can bake it in individual dishes or well-cleaned crab shells (see page 66).
Total Timeunder 2 hours
OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Formal Dinner Party
Recipe Coursemain course
Dietary Considerationmain course
Taste and Texturebuttery, creamy, rich, savory
Type of Dishcasserole
- 4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter
- 2 tablespoons diced green bell pepper
- 2 tablespoons diced red bell pepper or pimiento
- ½ cup chopped mushrooms
- ¾ cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- ¼ teaspoon Tabasco Sauce
- 1 teaspoon capers, drained and chopped
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon Chesapeake seasoning
- 1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, picked over
- 1 egg, beaten
- ¼ cup mayonnaise
- Pinch of paprika
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Melt the butter in a small skillet and sauté the bell peppers and mushrooms until soft. Set aside.
Combine the mayonnaise, mustard, Worcestershire, Tabasco, capers, pepper, and Chesapeake seasoning in a small bowl and mix well. Add the sautéed peppers and mushrooms.
Place the crabmeat in a mixing bowl and pour the mixture over it. Toss gently. Spoon the mixture into 4 individual gratin dishes or well-cleaned crab shells. (Place filled shells on a baking sheet.) Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the topping: Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix well. Remove the casseroles from the oven. Preheat the broiler. Spoon the topping evenly over each casserole. Place under the broiler for 1 to 2 minutes, or until nicely browned. (If a broiler is unavailable, brown the top in the oven. It will take a bit longer.) Serve immediately.
1998 John Shields