When I worked at Apple, my friends and I used to go to a restaurant near the campus that served an amazing hot crab and cheese dip. I always wanted to try and duplicate it, and then one day I saw this recipe. I realized that it was probably very close to the same flavors, and with a little adjustment, it is! This is quintessential party food … something that everyone loves and often requests.
Growing up near San Francisco, there is no better crab on the planet than Dungeness. Native to the West Coast, it is much larger than most species common to the U.S. The meat is sweet and succulent. One of my favorite things is buying crab fresh from the boats on the wharf in San Francisco and eating it as we walk along the piers. The smell of the ocean, calling of the seagulls, and the taste of the crab are intrinsically interwoven in my mind.
When fresh crab is out of season you can certainly used canned crab, but you will lose a lot of flavor. You can buy fresh crabmeat from your fishmonger but it is cost prohibitive so I buy it cracked and take it out of the shell myself. Be careful to remove all the small bits of shell so no one breaks a tooth! They can be very hard to see because both the crabmeat and shell are white, so use your fingers to feel for them. Be prepared to stand at your sink for awhile, but everyone will appreciate all of your efforts when they taste this appetizer!
You can serve this dip baked in a casserole as described below or you can keep it warm in a chafing dish, crock pot, or fondue pot and serve with chunks of bread or tortilla chips for dipping. In this case do not top with the breadcrumbs. If I am serving it at a party I like to put a spoon in the chafing dish so my guests can scoop some onto their plates and then eat it at their leisure.
Have you discovered pita chips yet? They are made from pieces of pita bread that are baked until crisp. I am addicted to them and because they are sturdy, they are perfect for dipping into this creamy casserole. You can easily make your own by tearing or cutting pita breads into small pieces, drizzling them with olive oil and sprinkling with salt and freshly minced herbs. Then bake at 350°F until golden brown and crispy.
I hope you enjoy this recipe. It is one of my favorites and perfect for the upcoming holiday season!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
You can assemble the casserole a day ahead and refrigerated overnight. Return to room temperature before topping with breadcrumbs and broiling.
- 4 tbsp butter, divided
- 2 large shallots, minced
- 2 tbsp dry vermouth
- 3/4 cup cream cheese (6 oz), softened
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 2 tsp ground turmeric
- 3 tbsp minced chives
- 2 tbsp minced fresh thyme leaves
- 2 tsp seeded and finely chopped pepperoncini
- 1 roasted red bell pepper, minced
- Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
- 1-1/2 lb jumbo lump crabmeat, picked over to remove any bits of shell
- 2/3 cup panko breadcrumbs, optional
- Paprika, optional
- Pita chips or toasted baguette slices
- Fresh lemon wedges
- In a medium skillet, melt 1 tbsp of the butter. Add the shallots and cook over moderate heat until just beginning to brown, 4 minutes. Add the vermouth and cook until nearly evaporated, about 1 minute.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the cream cheese, heavy cream, mayonnaise, mustard, turmeric, chives and thyme. Season lightly with salt and cayenne and stir until smooth and homogenous. Return to the heat if needed to make the cream cheese easier to blend. Stir in the pepperoncini and bell pepper until evenly distributed. Stir in the crabmeat, breaking it up slightly with a spoon. Serve as is for a hot dip or spread in a shallow ovenproof baking dish.
- Preheat the broiler. Position a rack 10 inches from the heat.
- In a small glass bowl, melt the remaining 3 tbsp of butter in a microwave on high heat. Stir in the breadcrumbs and a pinch of salt. Sprinkle the crumbs over the crab dip and broil until the dip is heated through and the topping is golden, about 2 minutes; turning the baking dish halfway through for even browning. Sprinkle the top with a little paprika for additional color. Serve warm with pita chips or toasted baguette slices and lemon slices.