Each summer when I was little, my family would load up the old Ford and head north to our cottage on
Chesapeake Bay. My brother and I loved it there because we could catch crabs in the shallows right out
front and all we needed was a piece of string, a safety pin, and a piece of bacon. In no time we’d have a
bucketful, which Mother would boil on an antiquated wood stove, then serve with melted butter, bibs,
and little wooden mallets. I’ve eaten plenty of crabs over the years, but none as good as blue crabs.
Not the Peekytoes of Maine, not the West Coast Dungeness, not Alaska King or snow crab, not even
the beloved Sapateiras of Portugal. None, in my opinion, can match the sweetness, tenderness, and
delicacy of the Chesapeake’s “beautiful swimmers.” I once judged a blue crab/Dungeness competition
in Baltimore with East and West Coast chefs strutting their stuff and judges from New York, Baltimore,
San Francisco, and Seattle. To my delight—but not surprise—blue crabs grabbed the gold. Our most
revered blue crab dishes, however, aren’t likely to have been created by trendy chefs. Southerners prefer handed-down family recipes—everything from Crab Meat Norfolk to Deviled Crab to that most luscious of Chesapeake classics, Crab Imperial. Some cooks gussy it up with onions, green bell pepper, prepared mustard, even. For me, less is more. Why overpower the exquisite taste of blue crabs? Note: When picking over lump crab, be careful not to tear the meat apart.
- Yield: 4 Servings
- 2⁄3 cup mayonnaise (use “light,” if you like)
- 1 tablespoon moderately finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1⁄2 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
- 1⁄2 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce
- 1 pound fresh lump crab meat, bits of shell and cartilage removed
- 1 cup fairly fine soft white bread crumbs mixed with 11⁄2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter (Topping)
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly butter shallow 11⁄2-quart casserole and set aside.
- Combine mayonnaise, parsley, mustard, salt, and hot red pepper sauce in large bowl. Fold in crab, taking care not to break up lumps. Turn into casserole, spreading to edge, and scatter Topping evenly over all.
- Slide onto middle oven shelf and bake uncovered 15 to 20 minutes until bubbling and tipped with brown.
- Serve at once as the main course of an elegant dinner. To accompany? Something green—asparagus spears, steamed and drizzled with melted butter, would be perfect.