Stuffed Deviled Crab: A South Carolina Lowcountry Classic
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My easy Stuffed Crab recipe is a super-rich crab meat stuffing that will transport you to the Lowcountry of South Carolina in a single bite.
Serve this Gullah dish in retro crab tins for a sophisticated presentation or check with your grocers’ fish monger to see if they have and will sell you any in-tact crab back shells they may be otherwise prepared to throw away.
Vibrant green onions and bell pepper, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, Old Bay seasoning, and crab meat (lump crab or claw meat) are among the few ingredients necessary to assemble crab stuffing, a great Lowcountry tradition steeped in Gullah history.
Also known as Deviled Crab, and similar to crab cakes, this seafood masterpiece offers a bit of heat in addition to a fabulously unique presentation. Piled high into crab tins or the back shells of the crabs themselves, they’re baked until golden brown and basted with a warm butter and sherry sauce.
I’m using blue crabs today. The seafood lover in me is hungry for crab cakes or crab-stuffed mushrooms but my craving is much bigger than that, yielding to this hearty baked deviled stuffed crab instead.
Ingredients for Stuffed Crab
- sweet onion such as Vidalia
- Fresno chili (or small red bell pepper)
- red pepper flakes
- salted butter
- Dijon mustard
- seafood seasoning such as Tony Cachere’s or Old Bay
- ground mace
- large egg
- green onion
- blue crabmeat, lump or claw
- buttery crackers such as Captains Wafers or Ritz
optional for serving
- hot sauce of choice
- lemon wedges
- minced celery leaves
- minced chives or green onion
What Kitchen Tools Will I Need for Stuffed Crab?
Before I mention supplies, let’s talk what you plan to bake these in. Six shallow oven-proof dishes capable of holding about 1/2 to 3/4-cups of stuffing is required to get the job done.
Alternatively, use disposable aluminum crab tins. If you plan to purchase fresh crabs, use instead the shell backs from the crabs themselves. You could also ask your fish monger if they have any real crab shells as chances are they’re prepared to dispose of them anyway.
Whether aluminum tins or actual crab backs, both make a fabulous presentation. Shallow ramekins work fine, too.
Onward! Have at the ready your food processor, a large, rimmed baking sheet lined with foil, a large bowl, a medium saucepan, and a rubber spatula for folding. You’ll also want a small saucepan and pastry brush for assembling and applying the butter sherry sauce.
How to Make Stuffed Crab?
As I mentioned previously, I am using American-fished blue crab today. I purchase claw meat for this recipe for a couple of reasons. It’s sweet and it’s generally less expensive than lump crab.
I can pick up a one pound can of freshly packed crab from my grocer’s fish monger. I will use half for this recipe and assemble crabcakes from the remaining half to freeze for later use.
Pick the Crab Meat
Despite the best attempt at ridding all of that crab in the can of their shells, inevitably there are bits and pieces remaining. Scoop the crab right from the can into a large mixing bowl and sift through it using your fingers and feeling for any shell fragments. Discard any shell you find.
Prep the Aluminum Tins
Melt a tablespoon of salted butter in a small microwave-safe bowl. Use your pastry brush to lightly butter the inside of six tins.
Set each tin atop the prepared baking sheet and set all aside. Preheat your oven to 375°F.
Cook the Aromatics
In the barrel of your food processor, pulse a large, sweet onion and a stalk of celery until minced. Finely dice a Fresno chili, discarding the seeds.
Melt two tablespoons of butter in a medium-sized saucepan (you could also use a large skillet to complete this step) over medium heat and add the minced vegetables, chili, and the red pepper flakes. Sauté until soft, about 5 to 8 minutes.
Once cooked, remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the aromatics to cool. I like to give them 10 minutes, stir, then 10 more minutes to cool thoroughly.
Mix the Crabmeat Stuffing
To a large bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, Dijon, sherry, seafood seasoning such as Old Bay or Tony Chachere’s, ground mace, and two large eggs. Whisk in the cooled aromatics.
Gently fold in the crabmeat, a couple of tablespoons chopped green onion, and 28 to 30 very well crushed butter crackers. I am using good old Ritz today but have also used Captains Wafers in the past. As long as they are butter crackers, you’re good.
Stuff the Shells
Spoon about a half cup of the stuffing into each prepared crab tin. Load the stuffing evenly so it’s not all just centered in the deepest part of the tin.
Try not to press the stuffing down. You want the shells/tins loosely packed just enough to where the stuffing stays put. Place back onto the prepared baking sheet.
In a small saucepan over medium low heat, melt two tablespoons of butter and add in a tablespoon of sherry. Stir to combine before brushing the tops of each deviled crab with the butter sherry sauce.
Bake the Crab
Slide the baking sheet filled with deviled stuffed crab into the preheated oven and bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. If you had any leftover butter sherry sauce, baste again each deviled crab and serve immediately.
I also like to mince and combine celery leaves and chives and use as garnish. I especially feel like the celery leaves offer something particularly fresh over and above fishy to that first bite. It’s a flavor that sort of “seals the deal” for me in a very good way 😉 You could also offer lemon wedges tableside.
This recipe is very flexible as far as substitutions and variations and is often found on menus as crab and seafood stuffed crab. Consider Crab with Shrimp (1/2 finely chopped shrimp and 1/2 crabmeat), Crab with Crawfish (1/2 finely chopped crawfish and 1/2 crabmeat), or even Crab with Redfish (1/2 flaked fish and 1/2 crabmeat).
If you like heat, additional red pepper flakes may be added to the aromatics while they are being sauteed. If I am honest, I am NOT CAREFUL about de-seeding the Fresno chili while mincing because I WANT that tiniest bit of heat the seeds and the ribs offer.
You could also use cayenne pepper or your hot sauce of choice. Regardless of your desired level of heat, achieving the heat should be done during the blooming of the minced vegetable aromatics.
Also, I have substituted in the past, 3/4 cups cooked Carolina Gold rice for the buttery crackers. SPECIFICALLY, Carolina Gold rice, not just rice. This is a common switch in home kitchens here in Charleston, as many Beenya’s will argue that this practice is unique to Charleston.
What to Serve with Stuffed Crab?
This recipe may be assembled and served as an appetizer with one crab per person, or as a main with two to three crabs per person. I can eat two and feel full if served with a filling starch or salad.
Consider gold rice middlins (photo below), also known locally in the Lowcountry of South Carolina as rice grits. Red rice would also be appropriate as would any type of French-fried potato or hushpuppy.
What to Drink with Stuffed Crab?
I’m skipping wine and jumping straight into beer first. To be specific, pilsners and lagers.
Why? A match made in gastronomic Heaven as they say…
Pilsners are super crisp and clean ales with floral notes that are a superlative matching to crab. Lagers have a much lower hop level than many other beers, making them more on the sweeter side than bitter.
In terms of what I prefer to enjoy, I am a lager all the way, their crisp, clean flavor and pairing ability an unrivaled match to rich crab meat. In particular, and if you have time to shop for it, I recommend a lager born right here in South Carolina, now widely available across the US called Island Coastal Lager.
The maker adheres to the Reinheitsgebot, a German purity law that limits ingredients in beer to water, malted barley, yeast, and hops. So yeah, it’s the real deal and its quality is evident.
Now, as far as wines go, I am a diehard fan of the dry white recommendation I am about to impart. It is delicate, distinguished, and complex with notes of boxwood and grapefruit.
Best yet, it’s available widely in the US for right around $32 a bottle. Look for Chateau Montfollet Icone Blanc, chill it well, and savor. The French just do it right 🙂
FAQs & Tips
“Hot as the devil” crabs are typically enhanced with a whole lot of heat. In the recipe I share herein, the amount of red pepper flakes (combined with both mace and seafood seasoning) is low, just enough to offer the attribute these crabs are known for. If, however, you prefer them hotter, add additional spices ‘to taste.’
Either. If you purchase canned crab as I do, look for pasteurized and fully cooked claw or lump crabmeat.
No. In fact, I have never rinsed mine. If, however you prefer to rinse it, I recommend soaking it in ice cold water for a full 5 minutes, then draining very well in a fine mesh sieve.
Think gold rice, fresh breadcrumbs, panko, or a homemade combination of breadcrumbs seasoned with Parmesan cheese and LOTS of Creole seasoning.
Stuffed Deviled Crab
- aluminum foil to line baking sheet
- 1 small sweet onion such as Vidalia; cut into large pieces
- 1 small stalk celery cut into large pieces; leaves reserved for garnish if desired
- 1 Fresno chili minced; may use 2 chilis if you like heat
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes or more to taste
- 5 tablespoons salted butter divided
- ⅛ cup mayonnaise
- ⅛ cup Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons sherry divided
- ½ to ¾ teaspoons seafood seasoning such as Tony Cachere's or Old Bay
- ¼ teaspoon ground mace
- Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 green onion green part only, finely chopped; 1 teaspoon reserved as garnish if desired
- 1 large egg lightly beaten
- 1 pound crabmeat fresh or canned, lump or claw, picked
- 30 buttery crackers such as Ritz or Captains Wafers
optional for serving
- hot sauce
- lemon wedges
- celery leaves minced
- fresh chives minced
- In a microwave-safe bowl, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Use a pastry brush to brush the insides of 6 aluminum crab tins, crab back shells, or shallow ramekins. Set each atop the prepared baking sheet and set aside. Preheat your oven to 375°F.
- Add onion pieces and celery pieces to food processor and pulse until minced. Melt 2 more tablespoons of the butter, this time in a small sauté pan. Scrape the minced aromatics into the sauté pan along with the minced Fresno chili and hot pepper flakes. Add Kosher salt (or seasoned salt substitute) and black pepper to taste. Sauté until the vegetables are soft, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool 10 minutes more. NOTE: if you like heat, you may add additional hot pepper flakes or double up on the Fresno chili.
- In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, Dijon, 1 tablespoon of the sherry, seafood seasoning of your choice, ground mace, green onion, and egg. Whisk to combine. Fold in crabmeat and cracker crumbs and mix gently to combine. NOTE: if making ahead, place plastic film over the crab mixture with the film making direct contact with the mixture so air cannot dry it out. Refrigerate up to 24 hours.
- Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Whisk together with remaining tablespoon of sherry.
- Spoon crab mixture loosely into the shells. Replace atop the prepared baking sheet. Use a pastry brush to baste the tops of the crabs with the butter sherry sauce. ProTip: Try not to press the stuffing down. You want these loosely packed just enough to where the stuffing stays put. A loose stuffing will bake evenly and much faster.
- Bake the crab for 25 minutes or until golden. Once removed from oven, and if you have any of the butter sherry sauce remaining, use to baste the tops again and garnish if desired with minced celery leaves, minced chives, or a combination of both. Offer lemon wedges and hot sauce tableside.
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