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Any native Virginian has probably enjoyed the sweet, savory, and rich taste of Crab Imperial. This traditional dish is made with lump crabmeat, topped with Parmesan cheese, and baked in the oven until golden brown. It tastes fancy, but the easy recipe is ready with just 10 minutes of prep!

Close up side shot of the best crab imperial recipe in a blue ramekn.
Table of Contents
  1. How to Make Crab Imperial | 1-Minute Video
  2. What is Crab Imperial?
  3. Ingredients
  4. How to Make Crab Imperial
  5. How to Serve Crab Imperial
  6. Nutrition Information
  7. Preparation and Storage Tips
  8. Recipe Variations
  9. Tips for the Best Crab Imperial Recipe
  10. More Crab Meat Recipes to Try
  11. Virginia Crab Imperial Recipe

How to Make Crab Imperial | 1-Minute Video

Those of us raised in the southeast (and in Maryland) are very familiar with the wonder of blue crabs. The Chesapeake Bay and the Tidewater region are full of the popular shellfish, so dishes like crab cakes and crab imperial are practically a way of life. These favorite recipes have become part of the local culture, and most home cooks have their own preferred version.

What is Crab Imperial?

Crab Imperial is a classic American dish made with crabmeat that has been combined with mayonnaise or a sherried white sauce, and spooned into blue crab shells, scallop shells, or individual ramekins. The crab mixture is topped with Parmesan cheese or bread crumbs and baked until golden brown.

Square image of crab imperial in three blue ramekins on a table.

The Difference Between Crab Cakes and Crab Imperial

Crab Imperial tastes sweet and savory, and is very similar to crab cakes without the filler. Since it contains many of the same ingredients as a traditional crab cake recipe, crab imperial basically tastes like a baked crab cake in a casserole dish! We’re not adding breadcrumbs or cracker crumbs to bulk up the dish. Instead, each individual serving is bursting with lump crabmeat in a creamy, delicately seasoned sauce.

Sauteing red bell pepper and onion in a cast iron skillet.

Ingredients

This is a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for a delicious crab imperial recipe. As always, specific measurements and complete cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Red bell pepper and onion: fresh veggies that give the dish savory flavor, a bit of color, and a hint of sweetness in the background.
  • Butter: to sauté the vegetables.
  • Mayonnaise: the base of the creamy sauce the brings the fresh crab and other ingredients together.
  • Dijon mustard: for a touch of acidity, zesty tang.
  • Worcestershire sauce: provides salty, umami flavor.
  • Egg: the binder.
  • Pepper: just a hint for a more complex flavor.
  • Old Bay seasoning: this classic seafood seasoning blend is a combination of celery salt, paprika, and other spices like red pepper and black pepper.
  • Crabmeat: I use the good stuff — refrigerated jumbo lump crabmeat!
  • Parmesan cheese: a finishing touch that adds sharp, salty flavor to contrast nicely with the sweet, creamy base. It also helps the top brown.
Stirring crab mixture in a white bowl.

The Best Crab Meat for Crab Imperial

Jumbo lump crab meat is the best of the best! While it’s also the most expensive crab that you can purchase, it’s well worth the investment for special occasions. Nothing else has the same rich, buttery texture, bright white appearance, and large chunks.

I buy the refrigerated jumbo lump crab meat in the seafood section at the grocery store (not the canned version). This crab meat is fully cooked and ready to use in recipes.

If you don’t want to splurge on a container of jumbo lump crab meat, you can also use lump crab meat (which is a little bit smaller than the jumbo lump) or even backfin crab meat (or a combination of these). I do not recommend using canned crab, claw crab meat, or imitation crab meat for this recipe.

Process shot showing how to make crab imperial.

How to Make Crab Imperial

You can certainly serve your crab imperial in shells, but I’ve used individual ramekins here for ease. You can also bake one larger casserole dish if you prefer. It’s an easy 30-minute meal with tons of flavor in every bite!

The detailed directions are included in the recipe card below, but here’s the quick version:

  • Sauté the bell pepper and onion.
  • Whisk together the imperial sauce.
  • Add the veggies and crabmeat to the sauce. Stir to combine.
  • Divide the mixture between individual dishes or a single 1-quart baking dish.
  • Top with mayo and Parmesan cheese.
  • Bake until golden brown and bubbly.
Square side shot of crab imperial with fresh parsley garnish on a wooden board.

How to Serve Crab Imperial

Crab Imperial is served as both an appetizer and as an entree, and is best warm from the oven. Since crabmeat is expensive, serving smaller portions as appetizers in scallop shells can be a nice way to stretch the quantity that you have.

The Crab Imperial also makes a great special occasion dinner. A little bit goes a long way (thanks to all of those rich ingredients), so a small 8-ounce ramekin should feed one person. Pair the dish with a couple of lighter sides for the perfect meal!

What to Eat with Crab Imperial

Here are some of our favorite sides that go well with crab recipes:

Side shot of crab imperial on a dinner table with biscuits, salad, and wine.

Nutrition Information

This Crab Imperial recipe is a keto-friendly low-carb dish. Each serving has about 433 calories, 36 grams of fat, 22 grams of protein and only 1.3 grams of carbohydrates.

Preparation and Storage Tips

  • Make Ahead: You can prepare the Crab Imperial up to 1 day in advance and keep it covered in the refrigerator until ready to bake. Allow the dishes to come to room temperature on the counter for at least 30 minutes before baking. It’s perfect for entertaining!
  • Leftover crab meat recipes will keep in the fridge for 1-2 days.
  • Do not freeze Crab Imperial. The creamy mayonnaise mixture will “break” when thawed.
  • How to Reheat: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the dish in the hot oven and bake just until the dish is warmed through (about 10 minutes).
Side shot of a fork in a dish of crab imperial.

Recipe Variations

  • I prefer jumbo lump or lump crab for this recipe, but you can substitute with backfin or a combination of lump and backfin. I do not recommend using canned crabmeat.
  • If you don’t have individual ramekin dishes, you can substitute with one 1-quart baking dish.
  • Cooking Just for Two? Cut all of the ingredients in half and bake two portions of the recipe instead of 4. The rest of the instructions remain the same.
  • Many crab meat recipes call for sherry, which I do not include here. If you like, you can add a splash of sherry to your mayonnaise mixture.
  • Instead of Dijon mustard, add a dash of dry mustard to the crab mixture.
  • Make it spicy by adding a dash of cayenne pepper to the sauce.
Side shot of three ramekins of crab imperial.

Tips for the Best Crab Imperial Recipe

  • If available, use a wedge of Parmesan cheese and grate it yourself instead of using canned pre-grated Parmesan cheese. The freshly-grated version has a richer taste and melts better.
  • Use the crab imperial as stuffing for shrimp, salmon, or flounder. This is another great way to stretch the flavor of the pricey crab.
  • Serve the creamy dish with lemon wedges or a squeeze of fresh lemon juice for a bright, acidic contrast. Chopped fresh parsley or sliced green onion are also classic finishing touches.
  • Offer crackers or fresh, crusty bread alongside for scooping. It’s like a hot crab dip!
Three ramekins with crab imperial on a cutting board.

More Crab Meat Recipes to Try

These are the classic crab recipes that every crab-lover will enjoy!

Square side shot of crab imperial with fresh parsley garnish on a wooden board.

Virginia Crab Imperial

4.81 from 21 votes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
0 minutes
Total: 30 minutes
Servings 4 people
Calories 433.5 kcal
A traditional Crab Imperial tastes fancy, but this easy dish is ready for the oven in just 10 minutes!

Ingredients
  

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray 4 (8-ounce) ramekins or one (1-quart) casserole dish with cooking spray and set aside.
  • Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bell pepper and onion; sauté until soft (about 5 minutes). Set aside to cool slightly.
    Sauteing red bell pepper and onion in a cast iron skillet.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together ½ cup of the mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, egg, pepper and Old Bay seasoning. Stir in the cooled vegetables. Add the crab and gently fold to mix, being careful not to break up the crab.
    Stirring crab mixture in a white bowl.
  • Divide the mixture among the 4 prepared dishes. Use the remaining ¼ cup of mayonnaise to spread about 1 tablespoon on top of each dish. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
    Process shot showing how to make crab imperial.
  • Bake, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, or until browned and bubbly.
    Close up side shot of the best crab imperial recipe in a blue ramekn.

Video

Notes

  • If available, use a wedge of Parmesan cheese and grate it yourself instead of using canned pre-grated Parmesan cheese. The freshly-grated version has a richer taste and melts better.
  • Use the Crab Imperial as stuffing for shrimp, salmon, or flounder. This is another great way to stretch the flavor of the pricey crab.
  • Serve the creamy dish with lemon wedges or a squeeze of lemon juice for a bright, acidic contrast. Chopped fresh parsley or sliced green onion are also classic finishing touches.
  • Offer crackers or fresh, crusty bread alongside for scooping. It’s like a hot crab dip!
  • I prefer jumbo lump or lump crab for this recipe, but you can substitute with backfin or a combination of lump and backfin. I do not recommend using canned crabmeat.
  • If you don’t have individual ramekin dishes, you can substitute with one 1-quart baking dish.
  • Cooking Just for Two? Cut all of the ingredients in half and bake two portions of the recipe instead of 4. The rest of the instructions remain the same.
  • Many crab meat recipes call for sherry, which I do not include here. If you like, you can add a splash of sherry to your mayonnaise mixture.

Nutrition

Serving: 1ramekinCalories: 433.5kcalCarbohydrates: 1.3gProtein: 22.4gFat: 36gSaturated Fat: 7.9gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.4gMonounsaturated Fat: 1.6gCholesterol: 155.7mgSodium: 708.8mgPotassium: 35.2mgFiber: 0.1gSugar: 5.1g
Keyword: crab imperial, crab imperial recipe, crab meat recipes
Course: Appetizer, Dinner
Cuisine: American, Southern
Author: Blair Lonergan

This recipe was originally published in July, 2020. The photos were updated in June, 2023.

blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

Read More

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Comments

  1. Kathi says:

    5 stars
    Hello. Can’t wait to make this recipe but with two changes. It sounds very close to the Baked Crab Au Gratin en casserole that Grotto #9 serves at the San francisco Fisherman’s Warf in their florentine dining restaurant. I will however, leave out the red bell peppers, as they are not in the Grotto’s recipe which costs $75.00 a servicing. I will also use Dungeness Crab as that is what we have here in California.
    Thanks for posting.

    1. Blair says:

      Sounds great, Kathi! Let me know how it works with the Dungeness crab! I’ve never tasted that variety of crab. 🙂

    2. Sterling says:

      5 stars
      Kathi,
      Never judge a recipe until do it ACCORDING TO THE DIRECTIONS! If you wanted The San Francisco’s version, you should have asked THEM for their recipe. You do not sound like a person who understands the nuances of a recipe

      Sterling

      1. Ann says:

        Your response was unnecessarily arrogant. Try to encourage others rather than discourage them.

      2. Sandra says:

        I agree with you whole heartily Sir. This sounds like a Fantastic recipe just the way its written. It was OK to have mentioned the restaurant but to change this recipe because it’s not the way they serve the crab isn’t very respectful of the author of this recipe. In my humble opinion.

        1. John Land says:

          5 stars
          Looks awesome! I can’t wait to try it. I’m a chef and that looks like exactly what I would put in it. Thank you!

          1. Blair Lonergan says:

            Thanks, John!! I hope you approve! 🙂

      3. Cathie says:

        5 stars
        totally agree! hate the trolls who tweak and make it their way or whatever and post their doings. , get a peer group and tell them how awesome you are. who cares, i wasnt looking for your recipe. cooty people bite

    3. Brenda says:

      5 stars
      I loved it. Followed recipe as written. The crab flavor was not overpowered by the other ingredients.

      1. The Seasoned Mom says:

        We’re so happy to hear this, Brenda!

  2. angela grivas says:

    5 stars
    I’m originally from Virginia…boy, did this bring back memories. This recipe is AMAZING. I’ll be making this for every special occasion..
    It can’t be beat.

    1. Blair says:

      Thank you, Angela! I’m so glad that you loved it and that the recipe brought back good memories. Thanks for taking the time to come back here and let me know!

      1. Thomas Wilcox says:

        5 stars
        I tried your recipe and added 1/2 of a finely diced lobster tail with 10 crushed ritz crackers. Amazing! Used it to stuff some butterflied shrimp and some salmon filets. I formed the leftovers in to crab cakes. Delicious! Thanks for the recipe.

        1. Blair Lonergan says:

          Wow, that sounds absolutely amazing, Thomas! I need to try that next time. Thank you for sharing!

    2. Beth says:

      What do you spread the crab imperial on, toast? Baguettes?

      1. Blair says:

        Hi, Beth! We usually just enjoy it on its own — eat it with a fork straight from the dish. It would be delicious spread on baguette or crostini, though — like a hot crab dip!

        1. Beth says:

          That sounds like permission to scarf it down! It’s on my list to make real soon!

          1. Blair says:

            Hah! Totally! 🙂 Enjoy!

          2. Beth says:

            Yay! I’m so excited! I’m making this recipe right now! The dish is in the oven right now. I did not cut the recipe in half for just the two of us. I want to enjoy as much as I want!

          3. Blair says:

            Sounds perfect. I hope you enjoyed the meal, Beth!

      2. JD Fletcher says:

        In Maryland, we serve it on a warm puff pastry.

        1. Blair says:

          Oh, I bet that’s delicious!!

        2. Mattie says:

          5 stars
          Great recipe. Served this with mashed potatoes and asparagus! Thank you!

          1. Blair Lonergan says:

            Sounds perfect. Thank you!

    3. Michelle says:

      I haven’t tried the recipe yet, I am going to but I am astonished by the comments … wow! Are you adults? The comments, in my opinion, give suggestions and/or different approaches to a recipe. You’re personal feelings should be shared with your therapist. If you don’t have one, get one. Thanks! Have. Nice day 🙂

      1. Blair says:

        Hope you enjoy the dish, Michelle! 🙂

  3. jean says:

    sounds good can this be made all in one dish.don’t have small ones) if so time and temperature please also what to serve with for dinner? or ca this be made wih a rice or potatoe in mixture? thanks

    1. Blair says:

      Hi, Jean! Yes — in the post I note that you can prepare the recipe in a 1-quart casserole dish if you don’t want to use the smaller ramekins. The cooking time and temp for the 1-quart casserole dish will be about the same, although you may need to add a few minutes to get it hot and bubbly. Just keep an eye on it. 🙂

      In the post above, I’ve listed a number of side dishes that go well with the crab for dinner. Enjoy!

  4. Buzzer says:

    5 stars
    Fabulous. I am a crab cake snob. But I’ll never bother with them again. I Did not do the red pepper or onion and upped the Worcestershire and added 1/4 tsp cayenne. Followed the rest of the recipe and was totally wowed!

    1. Blair says:

      Thank you, Buzzer! That makes me really happy to hear!

  5. VIeve B says:

    5 stars
    We love this recipe! I have used twice to “stuff” salmon with. I cut the recipe in half and omit the mayo and parmesan on the top for the stuffed salmon. If I were making the exact recipe I would follow the recipe to the T. I have been generous with the Old Bay and sprinkle a little on the top before baking the salmon.

    1. Blair says:

      That sounds amazing, Vleve! Thank you so much for the great tip!

  6. Corinne Bell says:

    5 stars
    I incorporated this recipe to use as a stuffing for a Portabello Mushroom. last evening for the Maiden Voyage of my Air Fryer (an Emeril LaGasse model)! I grew up in the 1950s until age 7 in Buckroe Beach and Hampton Roads area and remember simple crab dishes so well! This recipe turned out runny, sad to report. I AF’d it at 370* for 11 minutes, and will try again at 380* for 12 minutes; it was not hot enough, nor cooked through, and the crab (Dungeness) was stringy. I am hopeful for leftovers cooking today with remaining mixture will go better! I was just too skitzed out by the new gadget to try too much on my own in testing it out. The taste is superb, though!

    1. Blair says:

      Hi, Corinne! I wonder if the air fryer was the difference, since it cooks through just fine in the oven? I’ve never tried it in an air fryer, so I don’t know how that would compare or translate with the oven time and temp. Also, I always use blue crab, so maybe that makes a difference in the final texture? Glad you liked the taste! 🙂

      1. Corinne Bell says:

        I saved 1/2 to reheat in toaster oven today for brunch, and it was so good. It was the “Maiden Voyage” for the Air Fryer; I needed to set it at 380 for 12-13 minutes instead of 370 for 11, I think, but the way I had it at 370* for 11min, the cheese on top was the perfect color and doneness!
        [My family is from Highlands County near Bath, Staunton, Lone Fountain was where I lived every Summer in the 50s & 60s. Miss Virginia, so much!]

        1. Blair says:

          Oh, good! So glad that it was a success. Highland County and the Bath/Staunton area is gorgeous! And you’re right — not too far from us. 🙂

  7. Karen says:

    5 stars
    Super yummy delicious & easy. The only recommendation I have, is if you’re using a convection oven turn the temperature down to about 385 and cut about five minutes off the cooking time. But super easy and super yummy.

    1. Blair says:

      Thanks, Karen! 🙂

  8. Debbie says:

    5 stars
    Made with Dungeoness crabs and it turned out delicious. Very easy to make. Will make again and again.

    1. Blair says:

      Wonderful! Thanks, Debbie. 🙂 I’m glad to know that it works with Dungeoness crabs too.

  9. Kristi says:

    This is absolutely the best recipe! I have decided to include it with our standing rib roast at Christmas! Thank you so much for this!

    1. Blair says:

      It will be perfect for Christmas, Kristi! Thanks so much for your note. 🙂

  10. Bill Mingee says:

    5 stars
    Also from Buckroe and now living in Newport News. I have made this recipe twice now, once in the oven & once in my Instant Pot air fryer using local lump blue crab. Both cooking methods resulted the same…Fantastic!!
    Thanks for the recipe.

    1. Blair says:

      That’s so great to hear, Bill. Thank you for your note. I’m always happy to hear from other Virginians! 🙂

  11. Patti says:

    Hi Blair, I just made Crab Imperial for dinner last night along with Filet’s. It was absolutely delicious. Everyone loved it and it was a lovely evening entertaining friends. Thanks for the recipe.

    1. Blair Lonergan says:

      That sounds like an amazing meal, Patti! Thank you for letting me know. I’m so glad that it was a hit!

  12. Susan says:

    Why do you not recommend canned crab meat? I’m trying to get rid of a can of Phillips blue claw meat and love crab imperial. Was gonna try it in this but now I hesitate.

    1. Blair Lonergan says:

      Hi, Susan! The Phillips crab meat in a can is different than the shelf-stable canned crabmeat that I’m referring to. The Phillips crabmeat (that you find in the refrigerated seafood section) has a better flavor and texture. It’s my preference, but you can certainly use whichever you have or like! Hope you enjoy the dip. 🙂

  13. Susan says:

    Ah you meant the chicken of the sea type. Never even knew that existed.

    1. Blair Lonergan says:

      Exactly! 🙂

  14. Kayak Rob says:

    This is a great recipe.
    But unfortunately I have to dispute the link you have provided above for… that is a total disgrace for anything associated with
    Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay.
    “The Best Crab Meat for Crab Imperial”
    “Jumbo Lump Crab Meat” is a link to Phillips Crab Meat.

    ALL of Phillips Seafood Crab Meat… is from Indonesia.
    NOT the famous Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab.

    There are many distributors of “REAL” American crab meat… from Maryland through the Carolina’s that I think would be a better representation on your website than a company that imports foreign crab meat.

    Let alone supporting the watermen and women of the Chesapeake Bay and southern waters.

    Please update your website to authentic American crab meat and support the local business along the East Coast.

  15. Laura says:

    I made this just the way it’s wrote.. DELICIOUS my husband loved telling everyone how great it was..I made in small casserole dish..inwouldnt change a thing. I will double next time. I used Maryland blue crab that we caught

    1. Blair Lonergan says:

      Thank you, Laura. I’m so glad to hear that it was a success. I bet it was amazing with those fresh Maryland crabs!

  16. Jackie Wilson says:

    5 stars
    I love the recipe. My Portland, Oregon, son catches, cooks, cleans and cans his own Dungeoness crab, then mails to me in NC. So I used that canned crab and the recipe was wonderful.

    1. Blair Lonergan says:

      That sounds wonderful! You’re very lucky. 🙂 I’ve never had Dungeoness crab, but my husband has tasted it on business trips to the west coast and he says it’s amazing!

  17. David says:

    5 stars
    Thank you for this recipe Blair! Everyone including young and semi adult kids loved it. I will certainly make again. I did make some bacon and chopped it up and added. It worked. Have a great Christmas.

    1. Blair Lonergan says:

      Awesome! What a treat for everyone! Thanks, David…and Merry Christmas!

  18. Brenda says:

    5 stars
    I loved it. Followed recipe as written. The crab flavor was not overpowered by the other ingredients.

  19. Marianne says:

    5 stars
    This was an excellent recipe & very tasty! I would definitely make it again & again!

    1. Blair Lonergan says:

      Thanks, Marianne!

  20. Scott says:

    Made this as is but in a baking dish… then served in store bought (Pepperidge Farm) puff pastry shells.. a hit!

    1. Blair Lonergan says:

      Sounds perfect, Scott. Thank you!

  21. Jamie says:

    1 star
    Entirely too liquidy and salty. It feels like it’s missing a key ingredient

    1. Blair Lonergan says:

      I’m sorry to hear that, Jamie. We’ve never had that complaint before. Did you accidentally omit the egg? That helps it set up. Otherwise, there’s nothing that should water down the ingredients, since you saute the veggies in a skillet first. Again, sorry that it wasn’t a success for you.

  22. ConnieB says:

    5 stars
    Had a package of frozen rock crab meat and made this recipe. It was soooo good! Family gave it two thumbs up and we’ll be making it again. For health reasons we had to skip the second dollop of mayo that goes on top (too much fat for a family member with issues) and instead sprinkled with some cracker crumbs. We used shredded gouda instead of parmesan because we didn’t have any parmesan in the house but the gouda still worked out. There was a little left over which ended up being even better the next day. This recipe is definitely a keeper!

    1. Blair Lonergan says:

      Hi, Connie! I’m so glad to hear that it was a hit, and that you were able to make it work for you. Thanks for your note!