Mac and cheese is a favourite comfort food for kids and grown-ups alike. Kick it up a notch with the addition of beautiful crab meat. Soft and sweet, the crab turns this every-day dinner into a truly special meal.
One of my 3 year old daughters all-time favourite things to do is to visit the fishmonger. She loves to look at all the different types of whole fish and shellfish and help us choose what we’re going to buy. When we have time we’ll trek into the city to the waterfront and visit the large fish market – now there’s an adventure for her! But this weekend, with the torrential rain and gale-force winds we’ve been battling lately, we kept it local. Twice.
Our local fishmonger is quite small but has always had great quality seafood. Its recently come under new management and the new people are making some great changes. They’re introducing new and interesting varieties, and keeping the prices very reasonable. This weekend’s discovery was snow crab claw meat. Cooked and shelled. Woo hoo! Crab I adore, particularly claw meat. Cooking, shelling and picking through the meat to get out all the little bits of shell, not so much. As soon as I saw the little trays of snow crab I knew I had to grab some.
We were having steak for dinner, so we turned it into a ‘surf and turf’ and served perfectly cooked steak with caper butter and shredded crab meat. The left-over crab made it into a crab stuffed omelette for breakfast the next day. By now we were all hooked and the idea for this amazing crab mac and cheese had taken hold. Mr Fare Sage and his trusty side-kick headed off for a second-time-in-two-days visit to the fishmonger. No one was complaining.
A wonderful seafood restaurant in the city makes an amazing crab lasagne with beurre blanc that is almost worth queuing for. I wanted to try and replicate some of those flavours in this crab mac and cheese. I didn’t make a traditional cheese sauce so as not to overwhelm the subtle sweetness of the crab. Instead I almost caramelised some onion and warmed it with garlic and a little turmeric before turning it into a veloute using chicken stock.
Next I added some milk and cream and just a bit of cheese to get the right consistency. A touch of brandy or white wine, loads of lemon juice and a sprinkling of tarragon and the sauce was ready for the shredded crab. The sauce was stirred through well cooked macaroni. Sprinkle some more cheese and breadcrumbs on top for crunch, then pop it under the grill for a few minutes. Topped with some extra crab this was a truly superb meal.
While fresh crab meat was sensational in this crab mac and cheese it was a bit of a luxury so canned crab, drained well, would be lovely too. The light sauce, slightly sweet with well cooked onions and not-too-cheesy, allows the sweet flavour of the crab to really shine in this dish. Its a fantastic meal for something a little bit different and, even better, is ready in just half an hour!
- 300g dried macaroni elbows
- 50g butter
- 1 brown onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- ½ tsp dried tarragon
- ⅛ tsp tumeric
- 2 tbsp flour
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 tbsp brandy or white wine (optional)
- 2 cups milk
- ¼ cup cream
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup grated cheese
- 150g crab meat
- ¼ cup grated cheese (additional)
- 2 tbsp breadcrumbs
- Put a large pot of well salted water on the stove and bring to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook for 15-20 minutes until al dente.
- While the pasta is cooking, place a saucepan on the stove over a medium heat and melt the butter. Finely dice the onion and cook in the butter for 5-7 minutes until very soft and starting to turn golden.
- Crush the garlic and stir into the onion. Stir in the tarragon and tumeric and cook for another minute.
- Sprinkle the flour over the butter and onion mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes.
- Pour in the chicken stock and stir well to remove any lumps. Pour in the brandy or white wine if using. The sauce will be very thick.
- Pour in the milk and stir carefully to combine. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent the sauce sticking.
- Add the cream and lemon juice to the sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Note: you can add more lemon juice if you would like the sauce to have more zing.
- Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the 1 cup of grated cheese. Shred the crab meat and stir through the sauce (keep a little aside to garnish if you wish).
- Once the macaroni is cooked, drain well and return to the pot. Pour in the sauce and mix well to coat the pasta with the crab sauce.
- Transfer to individual oven-proof serving bowls, or one large ovenproof dish. Sprinkle over a little extra grate cheese and a few breadcrumbs and grill for a few minutes until the cheese is melted and lightly browned.
- Serve immediately with a fresh salad or your favourite vegetables.