A simple crab au gratin recipe is adapted from one of a much loved, but long gone restaurant on the Georgia coast. It can be jazzed up with seasonings and spices if you prefer and is best served as a dip or spread.
Where the recipe originated
Go into any bar, restaurant or gathering of people along the Georgia coastal area which includes the islands of Jekyll, St. Simons and Sea Island and say the words "Emmaline and Hessie" and you've sparked a conversation.
Gone for many years now, the restaurant was named for two ferries which ran between the mainland and the islands before the causeways were built. Emmaline and Hessie's was, of course, known for seafood. The memories created there are treasured to this day.
At one time there was a cookbook written with many of the favorite Emmaline and Hessie recipes. It's out of print now, but a family member of mine who lives in the area came by a copy and shared it with me temporarily. That's where I found the original crab au gratin recipe.
Crabmeat au gratin as a dip or spread
Back in the Emmaline and Hessie days it was served as a main dish. Our tastes now run to lighter main dishes so we've adapted it to be offered as a dip or spread.
To read more about how our southern cuisine is adapting to today's healthier lifestyles you'll want to check out Southern Food: Then and Now. Another crab filled southern favorite is She Crab Soup, and it's easier than you think.
Here we're serving it in a small cast iron baking dish and dipping with toasted baquette slices and celery sticks. But you could offer any type of sturdy veggie and the crackers or flatbread of your choice.
Emmaline and Hessie's version was also made with mild cheddar cheese and we much prefer a sharp cheddar. You can handle that choice any way you like.
This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click on an affiliate link and buy something, we may receive a very small commission. It does NOT result in additional charges to you or cost you anything extra. Click here for our full privacy and disclosure policy. As an Amazon associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
Make your crab au gratin spicy or keep it mild
The original recipe is very simple with the predominant flavors being the crab meat and the cheese. You can certainly punch up the flavor with some seasonings, though.
We love Cajun and Creole flavors and you'll find a lot of those recipes around here. In fact, our Cajun Crab Dip and Jambalaya Dip both use our favorite Tony Chachere's Original. A spoonful of it in this crab au gratin would be super tasty!
If you're an Old Bay lover add a teaspoon at the end, or for just a kick of heat, how about ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper?
For a fun look at this recipe, check out the web story!
The basics of how to make it:
- Start with good quality lump crabmeat, jumbo lump if you can find it. The crabmeat can be fresh, frozen that has been thawed, or canned that has been drained.
- Make a basic cream sauce (specific directions are in the recipe card below).
- Use a good cheddar cheese that you have grated yourself.
- A small baking dish that holds heat well is great for your crab au gratin. This is similar to ours.
Crab Au Gratin
- 1½ Tablespoons butter cut into pieces
- 1 Tablespoon all purpose flour
- ½ cup whole milk
- ¼-½ teaspoon salt see notes below
- 1½ Tablespoons dry white wine
- ¾ cups grated cheddar cheese, divided
- 8 ounces lump crab meat
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon Cajun or Creole Seasoning optional
- ½ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning optional
- ¼-½ teaspoon cayenne pepper optional
- Melt butter in skillet over medium low heat.
- Whisk flour into butter until smooth.
- Gradually add milk, whisking as you add. Stir in salt.
- Whisk in wine and raise heat to medium until mixture starts to bubble.
- Reduce heat to low and simmer for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Stir in ½ cup of cheese and seasonings and stir until melted.
- Fold in crab meat, trying not to break up lumps too much.
- Pour mixture into a small baking dish and top with remaining cheese and paprika.
- Bake at 350° for 12-15 minutes, or until bubbling.
- whole milk gives the richest flavor, but 2% milk may be substituted
- up to 1 cup freshly shredded cheddar cheese may be used, reserving a little to sprinkle on top
- Cajun seasoning and/or Old Bay seasoning are optional additions
Note: This recipe has been updated as of July 24, 2023.