Crabmeat au Gratin

For as long as I can remember, crabmeat au gratin has been considered the quintessential “fussy” appetizer in upscale restaurants, gracious homes, and country clubs throughout the South (despite there not being one thing fussy about the dish). I readily admit that I could eat it every day of my life. Normally, I use only aged, extra-sharp cheddar cheese in cooking, but not for crabmeat au gratin since it overwhelms the crabmeat. Likewise with the sherry, which adds sensual depth, so long as it’s used discreetly. This is a rich appetizer, so plan your meal accordingly.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1 cup grated mild cheddar cheese
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dry sherry
  • 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • ¾ pound fresh lump crabmeat, picked over for shells and cartilage and flaked
  • ½ cup dry bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter

Method

In a heavy saucepan, combine the half-and-half, cheese, Worcestershire, sherry, Tabasco, and salt and pepper and bring to a simmer over moderate heat, stirring till the cheese is melted and well incorporated. In a small bowl, knead together the flour and butter till a paste forms, then whisk the paste by bits into the cream mixture till thickened. Add the crabmeat and stir till the mixture is hot.

Preheat the oven broiler and butter four ½-cup ramekins.

Spoon equal amounts of the mixture into the four ramekins, lightly sprinkle bread crumbs over the top of each, and drizzle melted butter over the crumbs. Place the ramekins on a heavy baking sheet and run under the broiler about 3 inches from the heat till just golden, about 1 minute. Serve hot.

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