February 19, 2010

Rachel's Ultimate Crab Dip

16 oz blue crab claw meat
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup sharp cheddar
2 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons Old Bay
1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
1 shallot, minced

Preheat oven to 350. Mix all ingredients EXCEPT the cheddar cheese until they are evenly distributed. Or, if you are like me and you hate mincing yet don't want any chunky shallot bits in the final dip or want make sure the ingredients are fully incorporated, place all of the ingredients EXCEPT the cheddar and crab in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Then stir in the crab.

Spread into a 8x8 inch baking dish. Sprinkle with the cheese in an even layer. For bonus points, shake a bit of Old Bay on top of the cheese.

Bake for about 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbling.

Serve warm with crackers, pretzels, bread wedges, or plain Utz chips. Cover and refrigerate any leftovers. Bake @ 350 for 10 minutes or so to reheat. I don't recommend microwaving.

Note: For this recipe, quality reduced fat sour cream and cream cheese will work just fine.

My thoughts:
Crab dip is serious business here in Baltimore. We are a people who like our (blue) crabs and our cheesy dips. Growing up, my family didn't do much in the way of entertaining and well, crab is pricey so we didn't make it but I loved having friends whose families would make it for holiday parties and such. Of course, it has been on the menu of nearly every locally owned restaurant and pub at some point or another. I think if it doesn't make an appearance on the menu at least once, your food permit gets yanked.

Anyway, for the perfect crab dip you need, crab, some sort of combination of cream cheese, mayonnaise (or occasionally straight mayonnaise, no cream cheese), shredded cheese and lots of Old Bay. Beyond that I've had versions with garlic or garlic powder, onions or shallots, mustard, Parmesan cheese, and crab meat of every variety of from lump to backfin. I like to use claw because it has a flavor that is stronger than lump meat (but still sweet and not "fishy") and has a good mix of big chunks and smaller bits of crab. I like how the crab is distributed in the dip if you use claw or even backfin, with jumbo or regular lump you end up occasionally getting a bite that is entirely crab free. Not a problem with the claw.

When I set out to make the ultimate crab dip I had some parameters in mind. It had to be thick, creamy but not too mayonnaise-y, and spiced but not overpoweringly spicy. I am a sour cream addict so I always have to add that to my dips. I think the slight tang keeps the dip from tasting too rich or cloying. The trick is not to use too much or the crab will be spread too thin. You want a dip that is thick with crab meat. I like the crab flavor to be the star so I only put a thin layer of cheddar on the top (not mixed in as I've seen in some recipes) and just enough spices to accent the crab flavor, not overwhelm it. I always use extra sharp cheddar but a mix of cheddar and Monterey Jack (in a 2:1 ratio) is a good variation.

Crab dip is so popular here in Baltimore that it actually has spawned a spin off appetizer, the crab pretzel, which isn't quite as common but perhaps it should be, it is sort of a twist on the dip in the bread bowl fad of 30 years ago and is oddly satisfying.