Crab Imperial Highway

Just off Highway 57 in Brea, California at the Imperial Highway off ramp is (or was) a very fine French restaurant, La Vie en Rose. But you can’t get Crab Imperial there. You really have to be in Maryland or Virginia to get real Crab Imperial. Recipes there are varied, but wonderful.

In 1981, Camilla and I had the good fortune to spend the better part of two weeks in Port Deposit, MD, where we searched the countryside for the best restaurants. We ate at least 10 versions of real Crab Imperial. All, I thought at the time, were memorable. But alas, since then, despite fond recollections of those wonderful experiences, the recipes and makeup of those meals are now vague. The internet was not much help, either; there were just too many differences in recipes.

I tried to reinvent the tastes, textures, and presentations which I had remembered, but once I got onto the Crab Imperial Highway, I couldn’t be faithful to my recollections. I was plagued by amnestic potholes that I couldn’t dodge. I steered away from the temptation toward Newberg-like and mornay-based renditions. But regardless of the trajectory that it took me to get to this recipe, the result turned out to be pretty good, I thought. I hope you agree.

  • 1 tbsp <butter>, melted
  • 2 tsp onion, grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup green bell pepper, seeded, chopped fine
  • ¼ cup red bell pepper, seeded, chopped fine
  • ¼ cup shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, sliced
  • 1 stalk celery, minced
  • 2 tbsp sherry wine
  • 1 tbsp low-sodium Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp hot sauce (Tabasco«)
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • <salt> and pepper, to taste
  • 1 tsp prepared horse radish
  • 1 tbsp capers, drained
  • ¼ tsp old bay seafood seasoning
  • ¼ cup Mayonnaise
  • 1 egg, beaten slightly
  • ¼ cup grated Swiss cheese
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 8 oz lump crab meat, pre cooked
  • 2 oz lean ham, chopped
  • 4 puff pastry shells, pre baked and top removed

Melt the <butter>, add onion and garlic, and sautÚ at medium heat until the onion turns translucent. Add the bell peppers, mushrooms, and celery and continue to sautÚ for another 2-3 minutes. Add sherry, low-sodium Worcestershire, hot sauce, mustard, <salt> and pepper, and continue to simmer for about 5 minutes; add a little more sherry or water if the mixture becomes too dry. In a mixing bowl, toss together the Old Bay seasoning, Mayonnaise, egg, cheese, and horseradish; then add the crab, ham, and the onion and peppers mixture. Then toss again, carefully, until the ingredients are uniformly distributed. Mix the cheese and paprika separately. Distribute the mixture equally into the pastry shells, top with the cheese, add the puff pastry top, and pop them into a 400║ F oven about 15 minutes, or until the egg is set.

Serves 4.