Sometimes we indulge around here. A bit. Just a tad.
OK, we indulge a lot on this blog, but we don’t often indulge in the following manner. And that manner is to put lump crab meat (and a little claw crab meat) into a scrumptious baked mac and cheese! Da da duuuuuum! Exciting, right? You betcha. And yes, yes it does taste just like a yummy crab cake. But you’ve got to be prepared for a lot of ingredients. And dirty dishes and utensils! I try to be frugal when cooking, to get as little dirty as possible, but dudes, you’ve just got to get a lot of stuff dirty with this recipe. And when you taste it, you won’t remember that part, at least for a little while.
We thought about not doing an ingredients shot this time because our prep area table is pretty small. And this looks like an army of ingredients. It kind of is! All this for mac and cheese? Mmm hmm, for this is no ordinary cheesy baked pasta!
You can really use whatever your favorite lined shaped pasta is, and for my fam, that’s this corkscrew shape. It needs very little boiling time. You want it to be partially undercooked since it will finish cooking in the oven.
Ever made crab cakes before? Things like this go into them! We’ve got red bell pepper, celery, onion, fresh thyme, garlic and lemon zest.
The veggies will need a few minutes of cooking to soften them a little, and you’ll add in some seafood seasoning at this point. Give it a taste to see if the seasoning is right for you.
The sauce starts as a standard béchamel, with lots of sharp white cheddar and Swiss cheese added in last. The recipe also suggests Gruyère (instead of Swiss), but with the indulgent expense of the crab, I figured we’d already spent enough on this recipe. Swiss is just as good, sometimes better depending on the recipe. I went for the small wedge of deli baby Swiss, which wasn’t much more than a standard Kraft block of Swiss, but much less than the Gruyère.
The topping is a lot of fresh minced flat-leaf parsley, panko, melted butter and hot sauce. We recommend adding about half the hot sauce called for, then see if you want to add any more. We used about two tablespoons. This was a superb, crisp topping for this dish and really seals in the whole crab cake theme.
The recipe says to bake the mac and cheese for a slim 10 minutes, but ours wasn’t quite heated through, so we had it in there a total of about 20-25. It will depend on how deep a casserole you use, your oven, etc. Ours didn’t look much different done than it did unbaked, but it’s actually nicely heated through at this point and the topping is so crisp and yummy.
This recipe takes some work and your kitchen might look like a thunderstorm hit it afterward, but some foods are worth the time and cleanup. This is one of them. Due to the expense of the crab, it’s definitely more of a special occasion meal, but we all need new ideas for those times every so often. The best part is, after most of the work, you can cover it and cook it the next day. Whenever you have it, just enjoy it for the special, comforting treat it is.
Crab Cake Mac & Cheese
from Rachel Ray via The Cooking Channel
Prep Time: 20 minutes Cook Time: about 40 minutes Level: Easy Serves: 6
- 1 pound cavatappi or elbow pasta with lines on conchiglie (small fat tube/shell shaped pasta with lines)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 3 ribs celery with leafy tops, finely chopped
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 small red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
- 3 to 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- About 2 tablespoons freshly chopped thyme leaves, several sprigs
- About 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 pound fresh lump crabmeat, picked for shells and flaked
- 1 tablespoon seafood seasoning (recommended: Old Bay)
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 1/2 cups milk
- Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1/3 pound, about 1 rounded cup grated sharp white Cheddar
- 1/3 pound, about 1 rounded cup shredded Gruyère or Swiss cheese
- 3 tablespoons hot sauce (recommended: Frank’s Red Hot)
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- A generous handful flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, a couple of handfuls
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium heat, then salt the water. Add the pasta and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, (it will be undercooked). Cool, drain well and add it to a large bowl.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan, and 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium to medium-high heat. Add the celery, onion, red pepper, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, lemon zest, salt and pepper, to taste. Cook to tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the crabmeat to the vegetables and season liberally with seafood seasoning. Stir to combine, then remove from heat.
In a medium sauce pot, over low heat, melt 3 tablespoons butter and whisk in the flour. Cook for 1 minute, then whisk in the milk and bring to a bubble. Season the sauce with salt, pepper and nutmeg, to taste, and cook for a few minutes, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Add the mustard and the cheese and stir in a figure 8 motion. Add the vegetables and crab, and sauce to the bowl with the pasta and transfer the mixture to individual baking crocks or a large casserole dish. This can be made ahead to this point and refrigerated.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
To complete the dish, melt a couple of tablespoons butter in a small skillet, over low heat and add 3 tablespoons hot sauce. Warm through, then add the panko crumbs and toss to evenly coat the crumbs in sauce mixture. Cool the crumbs, then toss in the parsley and 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano -Reggiano cheese. Top the mac n cheese with the spicy crumb mixture. Arrange individual crocks on a baking sheet or put the casserole on baking sheet to catch any drips. Bake until brown and heated through, about 10 minutes. If cooking from cold, the mac n cheese will take 40 to 45 minutes, but add the crumbs the last 10 minutes of baking.
For the milk, just use what you have on hand. We used 2%.
Leftovers will reheat really well in the oven. Just place in a casserole (I just dumped ours in all mixed up) and bake at 350 degrees again till heated through. If you set it out for a while to get closer to room temperature, it might only take 15 minutes or so in the oven. Putting it in the oven straight from the fridge might take more like 30 minutes. Again, your oven might vary.
Don’t forget to discard the bay leaf before adding the crab veggie mixture to the sauce and pasta. It doesn’t say to remove it, but who wants to eat a crisp-ish leaf, no matter if it’s a seasoning or not.
On the crab meat: an 8 ounce container of lump crab meat wasn’t quite enough, so I got an additional container of claw crab meat, which was much cheaper. If an 8 ounce container of the lump crab is enough for you, then it’s enough. Use whichever amount you prefer. We ended up using it all since, what else was I going to use it for?