A classic crab imperial, the grande dame of Delmarva cookery, is a very rich yet delicate dish without bold seasoning. You must use top-quality crab meat, and fillers such as bread crumbs shouldn't be used - this is crab imperial, not a crab casserole!
A baked potato and tossed salad often accompany crab imperial in a restaurant, but I suggest sparking the eye and palate with sides of grape tomatoes sautéed in olive oil and garlic, and steamed green beans tossed with lemon and butter. On the Eastern shore of the US, blue crab, green beans and tomatoes are best in late July and August, so they are a good choice in my little corner of the world. But you should just buy the best and freshest vegetables available in your local market; top-quality lump crab meat is expensive, and deserves high-quality side dishes when you plate for your family and guests.
Crab meat base
1 pound (500 g) cooked lump crab meat1
1/4 teaspon salt
a couple grinds of black or white pepper
1 cup (240 ml) thick mayonnaise2
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup (60 ml) thick mayonnaise
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Preheat oven to 350o F (180o C, gas mark 4)
Check (pick over) the crab meat, discarding any shell and cartilage, transferring the cleaned meat to a bowl. Work gently, you don't want to break up the lumps! Sprinkle the salt and pepper over the cleaned crab meat.
In a separate bowl, mix the mayonnaise, beaten egg, dried mustard and paprika. Spoon onto crab meat and gently fold the mayo mixture into the crab (again, don't break up those lumps of crab meat).
Turn crab mixture into four (4) individual bakers such as 5" scallop shells or small oval ceramic casserole dishes. Bake in your preheated oven about 1/2 hour, or until mixture is hot and bubbling.
(While the crab mixture is baking, prepare the topping: simply whisk together the beaten egg, mayonnaise, paprika and parsley. Set aside.)
When the crab mixture is hot and bubbly, remove the baking dishes to a wire rack or wooden board, and turn on your broiler (any setting). Spread one-quarter of mayo-egg topping on each little casserole, and run under the broiler until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and plate your your choice of sides.
Eat slowly. Enjoy. This is truly wicked and rich, so enjoy the wonderful, sweet crab meat!
1 As a native Marylander, I suggest steamed blue crab meat from the Chesapeake Bay. Other blue crab meat is (sigh) probably a fine subsitute, good product is available from Florida and the eastern coast of South America. Dungeness crab would be wonderful - if you are one of those West-coast crabs.
2 I recommend Hellman's (Best Foods) mayonnaise, readily available in the US and UK, and in expat stores throughout Western Europe. A homemade mayonnaise is perfect, but be sure to add an extra egg yolk.