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Crab Mac 'n' Cheese

by . Featured in COOK EAT REPEAT
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Introduction

This is the most luscious of treats: rich, to be sure, but somehow delicate at the same time. Smoked paprika and crab (a 50/50 mixture of both white and brown meat) give an almost honeyed depth to the velvety cheese sauce, which is made with nutty and sweet gruyere. The combination is just sumptuous, like a cross between a mac’n’cheese and a bisque. I stray further from tradition in that I use pasta shells rather than macaroni, and I don’t scatter more cheese on top and brown it in the oven, and indeed advise sternly against it. I find a freckling of Aleppo pepper (though you could use paprika) more than makes up for the familiar heat-scorched finish.

It would be remiss of me not to let you know that if you bump up the milk in the sauce recipe to 300ml / 1¼ cups, it makes for sensational seafood nachos: warm tortilla chips in the oven, then pour the sauce over them, and top with sliced red chillies and chopped chives or whatever you please.

For US cup measures, use the toggle at the top of the ingredients list.

This is the most luscious of treats: rich, to be sure, but somehow delicate at the same time. Smoked paprika and crab (a 50/50 mixture of both white and brown meat) give an almost honeyed depth to the velvety cheese sauce, which is made with nutty and sweet gruyere. The combination is just sumptuous, like a cross between a mac’n’cheese and a bisque. I stray further from tradition in that I use pasta shells rather than macaroni, and I don’t scatter more cheese on top and brown it in the oven, and indeed advise sternly against it. I find a freckling of Aleppo pepper (though you could use paprika) more than makes up for the familiar heat-scorched finish.

It would be remiss of me not to let you know that if you bump up the milk in the sauce recipe to 300ml / 1¼ cups, it makes for sensational seafood nachos: warm tortilla chips in the oven, then pour the sauce over them, and top with sliced red chillies and chopped chives or whatever you please.

For US cup measures, use the toggle at the top of the ingredients list.

Image of Nigella's Crab Mac 'N' Cheese
Photo by Jonathan Lovekin

Ingredients

Serves: 2

Metric Cups
  • 100 grams gruyere cheese
  • 15g or 2 x 15ml tablespoons freshly grated parmesan
  • 15g or 1½ x 15ml tablespoons plain flour
  • ¼ teaspoon ground mace
  • ¼ teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
  • ⅛ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or hot smoked paprika, plus more to sprinkle at the end
  • 250 millilitres full fat milk
  • 1 x 15ml tablespoon tomato puree
  • 30g or 2 x 15ml tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 fat clove of garlic
  • ½ teaspoon worcestershire sauce
  • 200 grams conchiglie rigate pasta
  • 100 grams mixed white and brown crab meat (50/50)
  • 4 ounces gruyere cheese
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan
  • 1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon ground mace
  • ¼ teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
  • ⅛ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or hot smoked paprika, plus more to sprinkle at the end
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 fat clove of garlic
  • ½ teaspoon worcestershire sauce
  • 8 ounces conchiglie rigate pasta
  • 4 ounces mixed white and brown crab meat (50/50)

Method

  1. Grate the Gruyère into a bowl and add the 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan. Mix the flour with the spices in a small cup. Pour the milk into a measuring jug and stir in the tablespoon of tomato purée. Put a pan of water on to boil for the pasta.
  2. Find a smallish heavy-based saucepan; I use one of 18cm / 7 inches diameter. Over lowish heat, melt the butter, then peel and mince or grate in the garlic and stir it around in the pan quickly. Turn the heat up to medium and add the flour and spices. Whisk over the heat until it all coheres into an orange, fragrant, loose paste; this will take no longer than a minute. It soon looks like tangerine-tinted foaming honeycomb. Take off the heat and very gradually whisk in the tomatoey milk, until it’s completely smooth. Use a spatula to scrape down any sauce that’s stuck to the sides of the pan.
  3. Put back on the heat, turn up to medium and cook, stirring, until it has thickened and lost any taste of flouriness; this will take anything from 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce.
  4. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the grated cheeses. It’ll look rather fabulously like Velveeta now. Put a lid on the saucepan, or cover tightly with foil, and leave on the hob, but with the heat off, while you get on with the pasta. If you have an electric or ceramic hob it may be better to take the pan off completely.
  5. So, add salt to the boiling water in the pasta pan, then add the pasta and cook according to the packet instructions, though start checking it a couple of minutes earlier.
  6. When the pasta is just about al dente, add the crabmeat to the smoky cheese sauce, then once you’re happy that the pasta shells are ready, use a spider to lift them into the sauce or drain them, reserving some pasta-cooking liquid first, and drop the shells in. Stir over lowish heat until the crabmeat is hot. If you want to make the sauce any more fluid, as indeed you might, add as much of the pasta-cooking water as you need. Taste to see if you want to add salt – the crab meat you get in tubs tends to be quite salty already, but if you’ve got yours from your fishmonger, it might need it.
  7. Divide between two small shallow bowls and sprinkle with Aleppo pepper or hot smoked paprika.
  1. Grate the Gruyère into a bowl and add the 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan. Mix the flour with the spices in a small cup. Pour the milk into a measuring jug and stir in the tablespoon of tomato purée. Put a pan of water on to boil for the pasta.
  2. Find a smallish heavy-based saucepan; I use one of 18cm / 7 inches diameter. Over lowish heat, melt the butter, then peel and mince or grate in the garlic and stir it around in the pan quickly. Turn the heat up to medium and add the flour and spices. Whisk over the heat until it all coheres into an orange, fragrant, loose paste; this will take no longer than a minute. It soon looks like tangerine-tinted foaming honeycomb. Take off the heat and very gradually whisk in the tomatoey milk, until it’s completely smooth. Use a spatula to scrape down any sauce that’s stuck to the sides of the pan.
  3. Put back on the heat, turn up to medium and cook, stirring, until it has thickened and lost any taste of flouriness; this will take anything from 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce.
  4. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the grated cheeses. It’ll look rather fabulously like Velveeta now. Put a lid on the saucepan, or cover tightly with foil, and leave on the hob, but with the heat off, while you get on with the pasta. If you have an electric or ceramic hob it may be better to take the pan off completely.
  5. So, add salt to the boiling water in the pasta pan, then add the pasta and cook according to the packet instructions, though start checking it a couple of minutes earlier.
  6. When the pasta is just about al dente, add the crabmeat to the smoky cheese sauce, then once you’re happy that the pasta shells are ready, use a spider to lift them into the sauce or drain them, reserving some pasta-cooking liquid first, and drop the shells in. Stir over lowish heat until the crabmeat is hot. If you want to make the sauce any more fluid, as indeed you might, add as much of the pasta-cooking water as you need. Taste to see if you want to add salt – the crab meat you get in tubs tends to be quite salty already, but if you’ve got yours from your fishmonger, it might need it.
  7. Divide between two small shallow bowls and sprinkle with Aleppo pepper or hot smoked paprika.

Additional Information

MAKE AHEAD:
Prepare cheese sauce (without crab) up to 1 day ahead. Press baking parchment onto surface and refrigerate. Reheat in saucepan over low heat until piping hot, cook the pasta and continue as directed in recipe. Eat when freshly made.

MAKE AHEAD:
Prepare cheese sauce (without crab) up to 1 day ahead. Press baking parchment onto surface and refrigerate. Reheat in saucepan over low heat until piping hot, cook the pasta and continue as directed in recipe. Eat when freshly made.

Tell us what you think

What 11 Others have said

  • Made this last night, it was delicious.

    Posted by Crimps on 9th July 2021
  • This was an absolute delight. The crab paired beautifully with the gruyère. I’d bought Aleppo pepper on a whim a few weeks ago, and this was the first time I’d used it. A very welcome addition!

    Posted by Pocko on 14th June 2021
  • This is a family favourite and we especially love it with the giant shell pasta. I like to add a spoon or two of grilled pepper paste which just smells and tastes of holidays to me, and a squeeze of lemon just before serving. We like it with just a bowl of rocket on the side. Thanks Nigella!

    Posted by Sarah_Saza on 17th May 2021
  • It's delicious, the brown crab meat really does make it. And the flavour of the crab meat stands up beautifully to the cheese sauce, just as Nigella says. Very rich so make sure you are hungry!

    Posted by lmoyniha on 26th January 2021
  • Could not find crab meat and substituted crayfish tails which worked very well. Made my own pasta as close to shells as I could. Very enjoyable and will make again.

    Posted by SteveC0353 on 6th January 2021
  • Ok, imagine being in the South of France, you are in a restaurant eating the perfect mouthful of soup de poisson, the garlicky crouton is smothered in cheese and rouille, it had started to break apart, that is what this smells and tastes like, genius Nigella.x

    Posted by scalywitch on 3rd January 2021
  • I used Jarlsberg as it's a bit cheaper than Gruyere but still melts beautifully. Otherwise I followed the recipe and it was delicious and very easy to make. I just need to make sure I keep the sauce piping hot - taking it off the heat cools it down quite quickly.

    Posted by Lucy_Oliver on 1st January 2021
  • Just made this it’s so easy and would be a great one to feed a crowd. Thank you Nigella!

    Posted by Ral108 on 29th December 2020
  • Just made this, absolutely gorgeous, our Tier 4 cheer up meal, felt like we were in a restuarant, thank you Nigella

    Posted by Lello on 19th December 2020
  • The garlicky, smoky cheese sauce was divine. I can't wait to try it on nachos like Nigella did on the show!

    Posted by joshv41680 on 19th December 2020
  • Just made this for lunch, divine!

    Posted by BonnieMay on 16th December 2020
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