Whether an appetizer or a main course, crab meat is a delicious treat for just about any occasion. Known for its soft texture and sweet flavor, crab meat can be incorporated into a variety of dishes. But you don’t have to be a culinary wiz or spend a fortune to experience this delicious cuisine firsthand. We’ll show you how to whip up your own crustacean creations in just a few simple steps. First though, let’s take a closer look at how crab meat is categorized and sold.
How is Crab Meat Classified?
In the United States, crab meat is broken down into classifications depending on how big the pieces are and which part of the body the meat comes from. You’ll find that the following grades of crab meat are the most commonly recommended in the recipes below.
Colossal Crab Meat
This consists of the largest unbroken pieces of crab meat from the muscles that connect the crab’s swimming legs. This white crab meat is on the more costly end than other grades, but the quality is certainly worth it.
Jumbo Lump Crab Meat
Comes from large crabs, and although these beautiful pieces of white meat may not be quite as large as colossal clumps, both are substantial enough to be used whole. If you are unable to get your claws on colossal crab meat, jumbo lump is certainly a suitable substitute, and may even be easier to work with for the following recipes.
Lump Crab Meat
This refers to the morsels of jumbo lumps that have not remained intact, or are too small to use whole. But don’t discount these lovely little pieces, as they tend to be perfect for crab cakes and other treats. While the pieces are broken up, the quality remains high.
Usually has a stronger taste and aroma than the crab’s white meat, and is often used for soups and stews. This orangish-pinkish meat tends to be less expensive than the lumps. Certain variations on crab dip or crab cake may even call specifically for claw meat.
Claw fingers are also commonly served as cocktail appetizers. Kolikof Caviar and Gourmet Foods carries beautiful Stone Crab Claws that already have their shell caps removed and can be served with ease.
What is Imitation Crab Meat?
You may have heard of imitation crab meat, which is often used as a substitute for real crab meat, especially in sushi and crab rangoon. Imitation crab is most often made of finely minced pollock, a white fish with a naturally mild flavor profile that makes it especially adaptable. Occasionally, crab extract will be added to the minced fish for flavoring, but it is not uncommon to use artificial flavoring and preservatives too, making this processed meat a less than ideal substitute for the real thing. Additionally, real crab meat is much higher in nutritional value.
For the supplier, it is easier to produce imitation crab in bulk compared to the labor-intensive process of deshelling actual crabs. For the buyer, imitation crab is less costly. However, nothing compares to the authentic taste of true crab meat.
How to Make Crab Dip
Crab dip is a beloved classic, particularly on the east coast, where Boston and Baltimore both boast of their unique versions. But you don’t have to live in a coastal town to enjoy this delicious dip–with the right ingredients and quality crab meat, it’s simple enough for anyone to make at home!
First, you’ll want to create your cream-based mixture. Typically, this involves cream cheese (always block, never spread), sour cream, mayonnaise, and cheddar or parmesan cheese (or why not both?!). As for spices and seasoning, it is common to incorporate worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, garlic, green onion, shallots, chives, Old Bay seasoning, mustard powder, and a pinch of salt and pepper to taste (although this recipe is so tasty you could get away without it). If you like spicy (which is how crab dip is traditionally prepared), add your favorite kind of hot sauce, or cayenne pepper.
Use a stand mixer for best results. If you don’t have a stand mixer, be sure to beat your ingredients together thoroughly.
Once all other ingredients are mixed, gently fold in your crab meat. Do not use the stand mixer for this, as you want to keep the crab pieces intact as much as possible. It is recommended that you use lump or even jumbo lump crab meat.
You can chill the dip in the refrigerator and serve it cold (always use pre-cooked crab meat), or you can warm it up in the oven. If you have the time, you may even decide to slow-cook it to really let the flavors melt together.
If you so choose, top it all off with something crunchy like sliced almonds, panko bread crumbs, or Ritz cracker crumbles. And of course, more cheese!
Hot or cold, serve your dip alongside your favorite chips, bread, pretzels, or veggies.
This dip will last for up to five days in the refrigerator. But fair warning, with a dip this delicious, there may not be any leftover!
How to Make Crab Cakes
Ready for something a little more advanced? Crab cakes are the perfect tasty treat that can be served as a main dish or an hors d'oeuvre. But don’t get crabby–we promise this one is pretty simple to make, too!
First, you will make the batter, which consists of egg, mayonnaise, bread crumbs, and a variety of spices and sauces at your own discretion. Common ingredients include Old Bay seasoning, dijon mustard, parsley, dill, tarragon, worcestershire sauce, plus salt and pepper to taste, if you’d like. As with the crab dip, add your favorite spicy ingredient for a kick.
Lastly, for a crunchy variation on the traditional crab cake, throw in some finely chopped celery. Whisk all ingredients together, and then gently fold in the crab meat at the end. Again, do your best to keep the lumps of crab meat intact.
Form the patties by rolling the batter out evenly into slightly flattened balls using the palms of your hands. Let the patties solidify in the refrigerator for about half an hour (this is a key step in ensuring that your patties don’t fall apart). Crab cakes can be either baked or fried in oil on the stovetop.
Once cooked, these bad boys can be placed over a bed of salad, made into a sandwich on your favorite roll, or simply eaten as is. Serve alongside sliced lemon and tartar sauce, or your dressing of choice.
Crab cakes can keep in the refrigerator for about four days, and can be easily reheated by simply tossing them on the stovetop (as reheating these in the microwave or oven may cause them to get soggy).
Using Substitutes for Crab Dip and Crab Cakes
Can I Make it Less Spicy?
Feel free to get creative by using diced jalapenos (with the seeds removed) or paprika for a milder spice. Or, simply forgo the spicy ingredients altogether.
Can I Make it Healthier?
While crab meat is naturally low in fat, cooking with cream cheese, butter, and other fatty ingredients will of course add calories. You can certainly use low-fat or dairy substitutes, but if you’re able to enjoy the full-fat products, it will lend a natural richness to the dish.
Can I Skip the Old Bay Seasoning?
Old Bay Seasoning is a mix of spices including celery salt, red and black pepper, paprika, cardamom, and clove, just to name a few. This spice hails from Baltimore and is an essential staple for any crab recipe. You can find it on your grocery store shelves or order it online. If you can’t find Old Bay, you can always experiment with Cajun seasoning, or something similar--but fair warning that Old Bay is often regarded as a make-or-break ingredient to any classic crab preparation.
Can I Use Imitation Crab?
While easy to find and comparatively inexpensive, we recommend that you avoid using imitation crab if possible. As mentioned earlier, true crab meat will be both healthier and tastier.
When reading through recipes online, you will find that recommendations vary by region. However, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that you enjoy your food, so feel free to experiment however you see fit.
Where Can I Buy Lump Crab?
Lump and jumbo lump crab meat may be sold at your local grocery store, depending on where you live.
You can also buy whole crabs to boil and deshell yourself, but this is a rather involved process and not necessary for these simple appetizer suggestions.
If you want the experience of fresh crab without the hassle, look no further than Kolikof Caviar and Gourmet Foods. Now back by popular demand, we carry Dungeness crab meat, wild-caught and available any time of year. You can always count on Kolikof to carry only the highest quality of ingredients–and the tastiest!
Try our new Dungeness Crab Meat, portioned out to perfection for ease of use. We have a variety of options including hand picked crab leg meat, white meat, and red meat.