What is Imperial Crab? A Guide to This Classic Maryland Dish

Crab imperial is a classic crab dish hailing from Maryland’s Eastern Shore region. With its rich, creamy sauce and succulent crab meat, it’s a decadent seafood delicacy. But what exactly is imperial crab? Here’s an in-depth look at this iconic dish.

An Overview of Crab Imperial

  • Crab imperial consists of fresh crab meat blended with an imperial sauce, then baked to perfection

  • It originated in Maryland as an elegant way to highlight the sweet flavor of blue crab meat

  • The dish is sometimes called “stuffed crab” since the mixture can be used as a stuffing. But true crab imperial is baked loose.

  • It emerged in the late 1800s and became popular on restaurant menus by the 1930s.

  • Crab imperial remains a staple dish in Maryland, though it has spread in popularity along the East Coast.

What Defines the Imperial Sauce?

The smooth, creamy imperial sauce is key. It traditionally contains:

  • Mayonnaise – Usually Hellmann’s real mayonnaise, which holds up well when baked.

  • Eggs – Whole eggs or egg yolks provide richness.

  • Dry mustard – Gives the sauce a subtle zing.

  • Worcestershire sauce – Adds depth of flavor.

  • Lemon juice – A touch of acidity to balance the sauce.

  • Old Bay seasoning – The iconic Maryland spice blend flavors the sauce.

The sauce ingredients are combined, whisked smooth, and folded gently into the crab meat. This binds the mixture while allowing the crab to remain in chunks.

The Best Type of Crabmeat for Imperial

  • Jumbo lump – The largest chunks from the body provide the best texture.

  • Backfin lump – Smaller lump pieces are also ideal for retaining shape.

  • Avoid claw or flake meat, which easily falls apart when baked. The prized leg and body meat is key.

  • Pasteurized crab is acceptable, but fresh local crab is ideal when possible.

  • Ultimately any type works, including imitation crab for a budget version.

How to Prepare and Bake Crab Imperial

  • Carefully fold the imperial sauce into chunks of crab meat. Be gentle to keep the crab intact.

  • Portion the mixture lightly into a baking dish. Do not pack it down.

  • Smooth the top and sprinkle with paprika or Old Bay for color.

  • Bake at 350°F for 20-25 minutes until golden brown on top.

  • Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving. The texture will firm up slightly.

  • Serve with a wedge of lemon and enjoy with your favorite wine or beer.

Variations on Classic Crab Imperial

While the traditional version remains popular, some chefs put their own spin on crab imperial:

  • Adding cheddar, Swiss, or Gruyère cheese takes it to another level.

  • Fresh herbs like chives, tarragon, or parsley brighten up the flavor.

  • Sherry, white wine, or seafood stock lend extra richness as part of the sauce.

  • Spooning the mixture into mushrooms or peppers turns it into a stuffed appetizer.

  • Using a pastry crust or bread crumbs as a topping makes it more of a casserole.

  • Swapping in lobster or shrimp creates an indulgent surf and turf twist.

What to Serve with Crab Imperial

Crab imperial makes a decadent entrée, paired with:

  • Asparagus spears – Elegant and fresh tasting.

  • Roasted new potatoes – A classic starch accompaniment.

  • Sautéed spinach – For color and nutrition.

  • Dinner rolls – To sop up the delicious sauce.

A crisp white wine like Chardonnay is a classic beverage pairing. A pilsner-style beer also cleanses the palate between bites.

The Rich Flavor Payoff

Crab imperial requires minimal work, but rewards you with an incredibly rich, sumptuous dish. The tender crab, smooth sauce, and perfect golden crust join forces for an iconic Maryland flavor. Next time you’re craving classic crab, give this recipe a try. Just be ready to savor crab in its finest form!

what is imperial crab

More About This Recipe

Great by itself but also delicious with butter flavored crackers and a fresh green salad.

Featured in this Recipe

  • 1 pound jumbo lump crab meat
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon Chesapeake Bay Seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 ounces whole mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon melted butter
  • Imperial Sauce:
  • 3 ounces whole mayonnaise
  • 1 ounce half&half
  • ½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Topping:
  • ¼ cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • A couple of good shakes of paprika
  • ½ teaspoon Chesapeake Bay seasoning
  • ¼ cup red bell pepper, minced
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • In a medium mixing bowl, mix all the Crab Imperial ingredients together except for the crab meat. Then, use a whisk to make the mixture smooth. Fold the crab meat in slowly until it’s all mixed in, being careful not to break up any lumps. Divide mixture equally among 4 ramekins (or natural crab shell). Place on a baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes.
  • Mix all the ingredients for Imperial Sauce in a small bowl and whisk them together until the sauce is smooth.
  • In a separate small bowl, mix the bread crumbs with the rest of the melted butter.
  • Fill a ramekin (or real crab shell) with crab imperial. Add imperial sauce, bread crumbs, and a lot of paprika to each one. Place in broiler until golden brown.

How To Make The Best Imperial Crab – SHOCKINGLY EASY!!!!!!


What is Crab Imperial made of?

Crab Imperial is a classic American dish made with crabmeat that has been combined with mayonnaise or a sherried white sauce, and spooned into blue crab shells, scallop shells, or individual ramekins. The crab mixture is topped with Parmesan cheese or bread crumbs and baked until golden brown.

Is lump crab the same as crab meat?

Lump is a blend of broken pieces of jumbo lump and special grade crab meat. It is perfect for use in crab cakes, dips, salads, and casseroles. Lump makes a beautiful presentation when stuffing fish, chicken, vegetables, or seafood.

What is crab imperial?

Crab imperial is a dish featuring lump crab in its purest form, enhanced only by a light imperial sauce, without the additional binders used to make crab cakes. Think of it as the crab cake’s cousin, without any of the fussiness that typically accompanies the shaping and cooking process. Can I Make Crab Imperial in Advance?

How do you make crab imperial?

Combine all Crab Imperial ingredients (except for the crab meat) in a medium mixing bowl and whip until smooth. In a separate mixing bowl, add Phillips crab meat and pour imperial mixture over crab meat. Blend all ingredients together by tossing very gently in order to avoid breaking delicate crab lump meat.

What is baked crab imperial?

This crab imperial is jumbo lump crab meat coated in a creamy sauce, then baked to perfection. An easy and unique recipe made in under 30 minutes! Other crab favorites include hot crab dip, spicy crab bucatini, and crab cakes. I fell in love with baked crab imperial when I visited Maryland.

What is crab imperial sauce?

An Imperial Sauce is a mixture of mayonnaise, whole eggs or egg yolks, and seasonings, usually including Old Bay. It’s really easy to make and can be used with every type of crabmeat including imitation crabmeat. **Hellman’s Mayonnaise is best for this recipe, it holds up well to heat. What ingredients do I need to make Crab Imperial?

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