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.
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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?
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
- 3 Tablespoons butter cut into pieces
- 2 Tablespoons all purpose flour
- ⅔ cup milk
- ¼-½ teaspoon salt see notes below
- 3 Tablespoons dry white wine
- 1¼ cups grated cheddar cheese, divided
- 12-16 ounces lump crab meat
- ½ teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon Cajun or Creole Seasoning optional
- 1 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 about 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Stir in 1 cup of cheese 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.
Alisa Infanti says
This was amazing! I love the cheesy topping!
Thanks so much, Alisa!
This crab au gratin was a hit! Thanks for the delicious recipe.
Thank you for dropping by with a star rating, Michele! We really appreciate it.
This is going to be so delicious and very tasty! My daughter and I love crab, and this won’t disappoint! So excited to try this recipe soon! Sounds fantastic!
Hope you both love it, Beth! Thanks!!!
Laura Arteaga says
This recipe brings out the best flavours of butter and cheese, loved it so much. Thanks for sharing, will make it again soon! 🙂
Thanks, Laura. It’s really all about the crab!
This was a really huge hit at my house! That cheesy topping is totally irresistible!
Thanks so much, Toni! We’re glad y’all loved it.
what could be used in place of the wine?
Hi Betty, Chicken broth or stock would be an acceptable substitute.
D.G. Lewis says
Thank you for this great recipe! My family and friends absolutely loved it. Please keep these recipes coming.
Awwww… thanks so much! If you get a chance to come back and leave a star rating it would be really helpful for us.
How many servings is this recipe please ?
Hi Tina, Served as an appetizer it would make about 6-8 servings.
Can the complete recipe be frozen,thawed in frig overnight then cooked in oven?
I would think so, Rosemary, but we have not tested freezing it.
I hope this is as close to and as good as Williams Seafood in Savannah. I sure do miss going there when I go to Savannah to visit family.