This dish by Cat Cora is an absolute family favorite and perfect for Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve or any special occasion. It absolutely requires some prep and a mess, but it’s spectacular to prepare when you have the helping hands of family and friends around—and be sure to decide in advance who is doing the dishes. Dungeness Crab season starts at the beginning of November, and this is a delightful way to kick it off. Try to buy fewer, but larger, crabs—and don’t worry about leftovers, because there won’t be any left.
I make this easier on myself by buying the crabs from my local fish market par cooked and tomalleys removed. Before putting them in the oven, remove the legs from the crab and crack the legs a bit just to open them and allow the sauce mixture to infuse the crab. Throughout the entire process always have a bowl underneath the crabs, so that you’re catching every little bit of the juice to add to the mix. It’s a bit messy, but absolutely precious and worth the effort.
- 4 (1 to 1-1/2 pound) Dungeness Crabs or 2 (2 pound) crabs, cooked and cleaned (reserve juices and tomalley)
- Reserved tomalley
- 1 teaspoon chili flakes
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- Reserved crab juices
- 1 cup mayonnaise or aioli (use compliant for Whole30)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 1/4 pound butter (1 stick) (use clarified for Whole30)
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 2 tablespoons lemon zest (about 4 to 5 lemons)
- 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- 3 tablespoons roughly chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
- Lemon slices or wedges, for garnish
- 4 to 8 slices crusty bread, toasted, rubbed with garlic cloves and drizzled with olive oil
Crack the crab reserving the juices and tomalley. Set aside.
Make the tomalley sauce by pushing the tomalley through a sieve with a wooden spoon into a small pot. Add the chili flakes, thyme, garlic, and lemon juice. Mix in the reserved crab juices and bring to a quick simmer over low heat. Give it a final quick stir and remove the pan from the heat. Pour the tomalley mixture into a small mixing bowl and allow it to cool. (Start roasting the crab once the tomalley sauce is cooling.) As soon as the tomalley sauce feels lukewarm to the touch, add the mayonnaise or aioli along with the salt and pepper. Taste and add more salt, pepper, or thyme, if you like.
Put a rack in the middle or lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.
On the stove, in a large oven-proof saute pan or casserole, heat the butter, olive oil, garlic, thyme, and lemon zest over medium-high heat until hot. Add crab pieces and season with salt, pepper, to taste, and mix well. Put the pan in the oven and cook until the crab is hot throughout and the garlic is golden brown. (Watch carefully; the crab heats very quickly and at 500 degrees F the garlic can burn easily.) Remove the crab from the oven, drizzle with 4 tablespoons of lemon juice and scatter the parsley over the top.
To serve, stack the crab on a platter and drizzle with the tomalley sauce or serve the tomalley sauce in a small bowl and allow your guests to help themselves. Garnish the platter with lemon wedges and slices of garlic-rubbed toast. Serve immediately.