Savannah Deviled Crab

I’ve always said that deviled crab can be the worst or most delicious Southern dish imaginable, depending on the quality of the crabmeat, the amount of breading (filler), and whether the texture is inexcusably dry or sumptuously moist. What I’ve found distinguishes the best Savannah, Georgia, deviled crab from most you find along the Carolina, Florida, and Gulf coasts is not only the use of freshly steamed whole blue crabs but also the very sensible addition of cream to the mixture. If only commercially packed fresh crabmeat is practical, opt for the claw meat over the backfin lump; it may be more difficult to pick over for shells but it’s moister, sweeter, and much less expensive. Serious Savannah cooks pack their mixtures into crab backs to preserve as much moisture and sweetness as possible, but scallop shells or small ramekins work just as well, so long as you don’t overbake. Wrapped tightly in aluminum foil, the packed shells can be frozen and reheated when ready to serve.

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Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter
  • cup minced Vidalia onion
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons sweet sherry
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh chives
  • ½ teaspoon minced hot chile pepper
  • ½ teaspoon dry mustard
  • ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ½ pound fresh claw crabmeat, picked over for shells and cartilage
  • 2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • ¼ cup dry bread crumbs

Method

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

In a medium skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over moderate heat, add the onion, and cook, stirring, till softened, about 2 minutes. Add the heavy cream, sherry, chives, chile pepper, dry mustard, Worcestershire, and salt and pepper and cook, stirring, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the crabmeat, remove from the heat, then stir in the egg yolks till well incorporated.

Divide the mixture among four buttered scallop shells or small ramekins, sprinkle 1 tablespoon of bread crumbs on each serving, dot with pieces of the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, and bake till the crumbs are golden and the mixture is bubbling, about 10 minutes. Serve hot.