Crab Mac and Cheese is indulgent, so cheesy, and elegant enough to serve at your next dinner party! Unbelievably creamy baked mac and cheese is loaded with tender bites of crab meat and is topped with a golden brown sprinkling of crisp breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese.
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My favorite way of making mac and cheese is baking it. This time, I decided to make it extra special so I got some crab meat and added it. Seafood is great paired with pasta and parmesan cheese, and crab is one of my favorite types of seafood. I didn’t have a doubt that it would turn out perfectly.
To make baked mac and cheese even better, I also like to use more flavorful cheeses. I like to use sharp cheeses or smoked cheeses to really give it that extra oomph. Sharp white cheddar is one of my favorites! Of course, there’s nothing like fresh grated parmesan as well.
Serving a comforting seafood dish, like crab mac and cheese or lobster mac and cheese, at your next big dinner party, or any other special occasion will make it extra special. Of course, you could just make it on a random weeknight to really treat yourself. There’s never a bad time to enjoy a mac and cheese this good.
Macaroni – While you could use shells or another small pasta, elbow macaroni is the best!
Whole Milk – I don’t recommend swapping this with any other dairy product. It makes the cheese sauce so rich and creamy!
Cheeses – Freshly grated is the way to go for both the parmesan and sharp white cheddar cheese! Pre-shredded cheeses contain an anti-caking powder that affects the consistency and flavor.
Crab Meat – Before you use the claw meat, carefully pick through it with your fingers to make sure there are no shell fragments anywhere.
Shallot – In a pinch, you can use an equal amount of finely chopped yellow onion instead.
PRO TIP: You can use claw or lump crab meat, either will work just fine. Remember to SIFT THOROUGHLY through the crab meat with your hands because there are always pieces of crab shell left behind.
See the recipe card below for the full list of ingredients and instructions.
How to Make Crab Mac and Cheese
Prepare. Preheat your oven to 350°F and grease a 9×13 casserole dish (or a deep 9×9 baking dish).
Cook the pasta and prep the meat. Cook the macaroni according to box instructions, then drain well and set aside. Pick through the claw meat to make sure no shell pieces are in there (1). Set both aside.
Sauté the shallots. Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Toss in the shallots and sauté until fragrant (2).
Thicken it. Sprinkle the flour on the shallots and mix well (3). Pour in the milk slowly and whisk continuously (4). The mixture will begin to thicken.
Make it cheesy. Add cheeses a handful at a time (5) while slowly stirring. Keep slowly stirring until cheeses are melted and smooth (6). Sprinkle in salt and pepper and keep stirring, slowly, until the cheese has melted.
Combine it all. Add in the cooked macaroni (7) and crab into the cheese. Then, stir in the parmesan until combined (8).
Assemble and bake. Transfer the mixture into your prepared casserole dish (9) and spread it into an even layer. Sprinkle the bread crumbs and some more parmesan all over (10). Bake for 25-30 minutes (11).
Most likely you cooked it too long. You want to bake your mac and cheese just until it bubbles around the corner, just about 15 minutes. If you are leaving it in the oven longer waiting to the top to golden, this will cause your mac and cheese to cook out too much liquid and dry out. After you’ve baked the mac and cheese for about 15 minutes, simply turn on the broiler on low of a couple of minutes for the top to turn golden.
Elbow macaroni is always your best choice for mac and cheese because it’s thin enough, small enough, and has holes in the middle for a great coverage with cheese sauce. If you’re not able to get elbow macaroni, you can use short/small pasta with twists or holes like ziti, fusilli, cavatappi, trotolli, ditalini, and more.
Yes, you can! You can prepare the mac and cheese up to the step of baking it. Spread the pasta mixture in the baking dish and top it with bread crumbs. Make sure it’s cooled completely, then cover it airtight and refrigerate. You will want to make it just 1 day ahead for the best freshness of the dish. The next day, take off the covering from the dish and let it warm up on the counter for about 30 minutes before baking. Bake per the recipe recommendation but add about 5-10 minutes since you’re starting with a cold dish.
Storing and Reheating
Keep any leftovers you have of crab mac and cheese in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. Feel free to use the same dish you used to cook it in! If you have a lid, great. If not, wrap it twice in plastic wrap.
You can reheat several portions at once on stove-top. Make sure to reheat it over medium-low heat and add about 1/4-1/3 cup of milk. Cover the pot as mac and cheese reheats and stir every few minutes.
When reheating individual portions in the microwave, add a couple of tablespoons of milk to the bowl with pasta and use a microwave cover if you have one. Reheat the mac and cheese in 30-45 second increments, stirring in between. Make sure to reheat only until heated through.
PRO TIP: remember to add a few tablespoons of whole milk when you reheat baked mac and cheese. This will help invigorate the pasta again and add moisture. Pasta tends to soak up moisture, so adding a little milk will help bring it back to life after sitting in the fridge.
How to Make Mac and Cheese Gluten Free
You only need two substitutions to make mac and cheese gluten free. First, you’ll of course need gluten free pasta. I’ve found that the Tinkayada brand of pasta is the least crumbly and is the closest to regular pasta.
You can swap the regular flour either with gluten free flour or cornstarch. Either will work well to thicken the cheese sauce.
Gluten free flour can be mixed with the melted butter just as regular flour is.
Cornstarch must be mixed with cold milk first, then added to the pot to heat through. 1 TBSP of cornstarch should be enough for this recipe!
How to Make It Lactose Free
Did you know that you can easily enjoy some mac and cheese even if you follow a lactose free diet? So many people who are lactose intolerant may not be aware that they can still have most cheeses. Cheese that is aged 6 months and longer is naturally lactose free because of the aging process.
Keep in mind that soft cheeses like blue cheese, brie, feta, cream cheese, and a few others are not lactose free. However, cheeses like cheddar, monterrey jack cheese, parmesan and even some mozzarella are lactose free because of how they’re aged.
Keep an eye on the label, because almost all brands will put the lactose content under the nutritional information on the label. Look for keywords like “contains 0g of lactose per serving.” If you can’t find the wording there, you can look at the sugar content instead. If sugar is 0g, there’s a low chance of lactose.
Regular cream cheese can be replaced with vegan (plant-based) cream cheese. I’ve tried a few different brands and they all mix very well into the cheese sauce.
Instead of regular milk, use lactose free milk.
PRO TIP: Fairlife brand is not as sweet as Lactaid, so I recommend it for savory dishes like this one.
Enjoy More Mac and Cheese Recipes
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Crab Baked Mac And Cheese Recipe
- 1 1/2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
- 6 oz claw or lump crab meat
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp all purpose flour
- 1-2 large shallots chopped finely
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 3 oz fresh grated parmesan cheese
- 10 oz sharp white cheddar cheese block, grate it yourself
- salt more or less to taste
- fresh cracked pepper more or less to taste
- 1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs
- 2-3 tbsp fresh grated parmesan cheese
- Preheat the oven to 350° and lightly grease a casserole dish.
- Cook the macaroni according to the box instructions, drain well. Using your hands, sift through the claw meat to make sure no shell pieces are in there. Set both aside.
- Melt butter in a large pot over medium to medium-low heat and thinly sliced shallot. Let let the shallot sauté until softened and starts to brown.
- Sprinkle flour over the shallot and mix well. Slowly pour in the milk while constantly and carefully stirring with a whisk. Keep whisking until all incorporated and starts thickening.
- Add grated cheddar cheese a handful at a time while slowly stirring. Keep slowly stirring until cheeses are melted and smooth. Add salt and pepper.
- Stir in parmesan cheese, macaroni, and crab. Stir well, until all combined.
- Transfer into the prepared baking casserole dish. Mix Panko bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, and a little salt in a bowl and pour in melted but. Toss until completely incorporated and spread the topping evenly over the mac and cheese.
- Bake for about 15-20 minutes, until the edges are bubbly.
- Crab meat: You can use claw or lump crab meat, either will work just fine. Remember to SIFT THOROUGHLY through the crab meat with your hands because there are always pieces of crab shell left behind.
- *Read the post to learn how to make this mac and cheese gluten free and/or lactose free!
- Remember: NEVER let the cheese sauce boil! Cook the cheese sauce over medium to medium-low heat to let the milk heat through and the cheese melt.
- Reheating: You can reheat several portions at once on stove-top. Make sure to reheat it over medium-low heat and add about 1/4-1/3 cup of milk. Cover the pot as mac and cheese reheats and stir every few minutes.
- When reheating individual portions in the microwave, add a couple of tablespoons of milk to the bowl with pasta and use a microwave cover if you have one. Reheat the mac and cheese in 30-45 second increments, stirring in between. Make sure to reheat only until heated through.
Originally published on Will Cook For Smiles in April 2013.