When I stopped being a stupid little kid ("I hate seafood!") and saw The Light, this quickly became one of my favorite dishes. My grandma made the greatest stuffed crabs.

Usually the way to do it is not to pick meat out of boiled crabs, but to buy the lump crabmeat separately, get some washed crab shells from the seafood market (left over after the crabs had been cleaned to use for gumbo), then mix the dressing and stuff them into the crabs.

The best way to get these is in real crab shells, but you never see these in restaurants these days (nor in seafood markets that sell prepared dishes), due to a few unscrupulous restauranteurs way back when who would try to reuse the crab shells after they'd already been stuffed, heated, and served to customers. Yuck. (A recipe for food poisoning, that.) When you do see stuffed crabs nowadays, you see them in pseudo-crab shells made of thick aluminum foil, and roughly crab-shaped. Not as good. The only way to get 'em the real way (i.e., in crab shells) is to get 'em homemade.

The secret to this recipe is to moisten the bread used to make the dressing with crab or shrimp stock. If you use chicken stock, it won't taste nearly as much of seafood. If you use water, it'll taste like ... blah. You can take a little bit of crabmeat and make it go a long way with some crab stock you make from a few leftover shells.

Heat your oven to 400°F.

Heat 1-1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) of the butter and heat in a heavy skillet. When the butter is sizzling, sauté the onions and the celery until the onions begin to brown (be careful, make sure you brown them and not burn them). Add the green onions, garlic, salt and pepper and continue to cook until the vegetables are tender. Add the parsley and cook one minute. Season to taste with the Tabasco or Crystal (just a little, don't overdo it here).

Add the crab stock, mix well, then bring to a boil. Add the bread cubes and bread crumbs, and mix very thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary, then let the mixture cool.

Take 2-1/2 to 3 cups of the bread mixture and place in a large bowl, breaking it up with your fingers. Add the crabmeat (which has been picked over for cartilege and shell bits) and use your hands to combine it with the bread mixture, very carefully. You pay a premium for lump crabmeat, so don't break it up; leave some lumps!

Stuff each crab shell or aluminum crab form with a generous amount of the stuffing. Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter and drizzle over each mount of stuffing. Bake for about 10 minutes, and if you like turn on the broiler for the last 30-60 seconds, so that the bread crumbs will toast slightly (be VERY careful if you do this, and watch constantly).

Makes about one dozen stuffed crabs. These make great appetizers (you can serve as they are or drizzle with hollandaise), as a side dish, or serve three crabs as a main dish with a vegetable.


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Chuck Taggart   (email Chuck)