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When I was in grade school, eating mac and cheese meant ripping that familiar blue box open and arguing with family members over whether or not you should add that suggested splash of milk at the end. (The answer is no, obviously. Never. Only butter.)
In college, eating mac and cheese still meant ripping that familiar blue box open. Except this time, I’m eating the box myself, and I’m eating the artificially cheesy and buttery mac straight from the pot.
Today, eating mac and cheese means carefully selecting cheeses from the fancy cheese counter, making a roux, turning the roux into a béchamel, and turning the béchamel into a gloriously thick and velvety cheese sauce.
Sometimes I leave it as is.
Sometimes I kick it up with jalapeños.
And sometimes I add sweet n’ juicy lumps of Dungeness crab.
The cheese and seafood myth.
Nothing makes me roll my eyes harder than when someone shrieks, “You don’t put cheese on seafood!” while I’m making it snow Parmesan all over my clam pasta and shrieks.
I once asked why.
“I don’t know. You’re just not supposed to.”
Cool story, bro.
Here’s the thing: good quality seafood is light, sweet, and delicate on the palate; it’s euphoric. Cheese is heavy, rich, and coats the tongue therefore prohibiting you from appreciating the natural flavors of certain seafoods — like perfectly-seared buttery scallops. There’s no rule saying you can’t dip that gem into a vat of melty cheese, it’s just… why would you want to.
But there’s nothing wrong with cranking some Parmesan over your shrimp Alfredo; there’s nothing mad about that generous smear of cream cheese on your lox bagel; and there’s definitely nothing awful about jazzing up your cheesy-baked mac with plump morsels of Dungeness crab.
There’s a time and place for everything.
When it comes to using crab in a mac and cheese, big meaty pieces of fresh Dungeness crab make a much better impression and bring a lot more flavor to the dish than a can of “jumbo lump crab” would. And typically, those cans of crab aren’t sustainable so… good riddance.
Orca Bay makes shopping for sustainable crab easy — like, you can do it from your couch easy! So if this recipe has you salivating, know that luscious Dungeness crab is just a few clicks away and, because I like you, you can use my 15% off perk code (KillingThyme2017) on any $50+ order you make on Orca Bay’s online store.
If you make this dish, snap a photo and tag me on the Insta @killing__thyme! I love seeing your creations.
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Baked Crab Mac and Cheese
This velvety and cheesy mac bring smoked gouda, muenster, and sweet plump Dungeness Crab to your table for the perfect side or main.
- 1.5 lbs Dungeness Crab legs and claws I use Orca Bay Seafoods sustainable Dungeness Crab
- 16 oz dry pasta shells
- 3 TBSP butter
- 3 TBSP all-purpose flour
- 2 cups milk, + a few more splashes if need be
- 1 TBSP Dijon mustard
- 8 oz muenster cheese, grated
- 8 oz smoked gouda cheese, grated
- 2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning (optional)
- Kosher salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
Panko Crumb Topping
- 1/2-1 cup Panko bread crumbs
- 1-2 TBSP melted butter
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F. Spread the crab legs and claws over a baking sheet or pan and bake until heated through (6-8 minutes if thawed, 12-16 minutes if frozen).
Remove from oven and allow the legs and claws to cool until you can handle them. Once they've cooled, crack the claws and legs open using crab crackers or sturdy scissors. The meat should easily stay in tact and slide right out. Get as much meat out as you can to avoid food waste. Transfer your crab meat to a plate once you've removed it from the legs and claws. Set aside.
Cook the pasta as per the packages instructions. While the pasta cooks, you can start your cheese sauce. When the pasta is done, drain and set aside.
Heat a stock pot or Dutch oven over moderate heat. Melt 3 TBSP butter. Add gradually whisk in the flour one TBSP at a time until a thick roux forms. Once a roux has formed, add 1 cup of milk. Whisk until it thickens, and add one more cup of milk. Again, whisk until it thickens.
Whisk the Dijon mustard into the cheese sauce, and finally, add the grated cheeses. Stir until all of the cheese has melted and you have a thick and creamy cheese sauce. Stir in the Old Bay seasoning, and then some salt and pepper to taste.
Carefully transfer the pasta shells to the cheese sauce and stir to combine.
Stir in most of the crab, but reserve some nice big chunks for the top.
Panko Crumb Topping
Mix 1 TBSP of melted butter per 1/2 cup of Panko bread crumbs; stir until the bread crumbs are all buttery and have soaked up all the butter. Evenly distribute the crumb topping over the surface of the mac and cheese.
Pre-heat broiler to high, and place the mac beneath the broiler for approx. 1-2 minutes, but because broiler temps vary, watch it closely so it doesn't burn. Remove the mac when the crumb topping turns to a golden brown crisp.
Serve as a side, or dig into it as a main.
Prep times vary; my timing includes the cooking and cracking of the crabs which can be a little tedious — especially if you're doing it alone. But trust me, it's worth it ;)