Saturday, March 28, 2015

Chesapeake Blue Crab Imperial

     Classic Blue Crab Imperial!
     Crab Imperial is an old school east coast American seafood restaurant entrée that is served from North Carolina to New Jersey.  This portion of the east coast is the Chesapeake Bay region and Blue Crab is the king of local seafood!
     Some of the old fashioned Baltimore and Annapolis crab house restaurants still offer Crab Imperial on the menu.  Many old restaurants in Philadelphia offer Crab Imperial too.
     I learned how to make Crab Imperial while working as a cook in Philadelphia.  This entrée is notoriously rich and aromatic!  When a waiter sets a plate of Crab Imperial on a table, the rich baked crab custard aroma fills the air and customers smile from ear to ear.
     This is a very impressive tasting entrée and it is easy to savor each bite, while sipping on fine wine.  A semi sweet Bordeaux Blanc or a White Burgundy Chardonnay is best when paired with Crab Imperial.

     There are several variations of the custard for Crab Imperial.  The basic custard recipe may include combinations of cream, mayonnaise, hollandaise, béchamel and egg yolk.  The best custard choice is a fortified egg custard with no binding agents.  After baking, the egg custard looks like a hollandaise glaçage application.

     The classic custard style for Imperial made in "Philly or Bulletmore" is made with mayonnaise, cream and egg yolks.  The egg yolks serve to stabilize and tighten the cream and mayonnaise while baking.
    A very thin béchamel sauce can be used in place of cream, but this option actually creates more of a standard crab casserole kind of flavor.  Sour cream is also an option, but the flavor of the Crab Imperial will end up sitting too heavy on the palate.
     The quality of the mayonnaise does make a big difference, when making Crab Imperial.  A natural pre-made organic mayonnaise product with no additives or modifiers is good.  Fresh mayonnaise made from scratch is best.
     Last but not least, the quality of the crab meat for an Imperial is everything.  Poaching and shelling live Chesapeake Blue Crabs is best.  Second best is canned or vacuum packed blue crab meat.  If convenience is a priority, then canned blue crab meat is the best option.

     Crab Imperial:
     This recipe yields 1 entrée size portion!  A half portion can be served as an appetizer.
     About 3 medium size Live Chesapeake Blue Crabs will yield enough crab meat for 1 Crab Imperial entrée.  
     The other option is to purchase canned pre-cooked shelled Blue Crab meat.  About 4 to 4 1/2 ounces of prepared Blue Crab Meat is enough for 1 Crab Imperial entrée. 
     Step 1:  Heat a sauté pan over medium low heat.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
     Add 1 small clove of minced garlic.
     Add 1 teaspoon of finely chopped shallot.
     Add 2 tablespoons of finely chopped sweet vidalia onion or bermuda onion.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of small diced sweet mini red bell pepper.
     Gently sauté till the vegetables just start to become tender.
     Step 2:  Add 2 1/2 ounces of sherry.
     Simmer and reduce the mixture, till almost all of the sherry evaporates.
     Remove the pan from the heat.
     Step 3:  Place the sherried vegetables in a mixing bowl.
     Add 4 to 4 1/2 ounces of shelled poached Chesapeake Blue Crab Meat.
     Add 1/4 cup of cream.
     Add 1/3 cup of mayonnaise.
     Add 1 egg yolk.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of dijon mustard.
     Add 2 drops of Worcestershire Sauce.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice.
     Add Kosher Salt and white pepper.
     Add 1 small pinch of cayenne pepper.
     Add 1 teaspoon of chopped Italian Parsley.
     Add 1 small pinch of oregano.
     Add 1 teaspoon of chopped cilantro.  (optional)
     Gently mix the ingredients together.
     Step 4:  Place the Crab Imperial mixture into an individual portion size casserole dish.  (A 10 to 12 ounce capacity casserole boat dish is good.)
     Step 5:  Drizzle a few drops of melted unsalted butter over the casserole.  (About 1/2 teaspoon)
     Sprinkle 1 teaspoon bread crumbs over the Crab Imperial.
     Sprinkle 1 pinch of Spanish Paprika over the Crab Imperial.
     Step 6:  Place the casserole dish on a baking pan.
     Bake the Crab Imperial in a 350ºF oven, till the custard puffs up and light golden brown highlights appear on the surface.
     Step 7:  Place the Crab Imperial on a stove top and let it cool to a safe serving temperature.
     Place the casserole dish on a doily lined serving platter.
     Garnish with Italian Parsley sprigs.
     The crab flavor and aroma is so rich!  This classic east coast seafood cooking at its best!

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