If you crumbled up a bunch of crab cakes and tossed them with pasta, you’d end up with something like this. Crab pasta is perfect for a birthday or date night or just a Friday night when you want something special to go with that bottle of wine. At the same time, it’s practically foolproof and totally stress-free (no offense, crab cakes!). Here’s the scoop: Jumbo lump crab meat means you’ll end up with lots of big crab pieces. Lump works, as well—just make sure you stir extra carefully, so the pieces don’t become indistinguishable. I love the bright green color of leeks and scallions, but you could swap in finely chopped yellow onion (red would be too overpowering). Use whatever short-shaped pasta you’d like. In the test kitchen, we went with shells because of the way they hug the crab. Rigatoni would be very good, too. Make sure you taste the dressing before you toss it with the pasta. Maybe you want it a little spicier (more Dijon, Old Bay, or both), or tangier (more Worcestershire), or lemonier (more, uh, lemon). Adjust it until it’s highly addictive to you. And of course, you could skip butter-crisping the Saltines (after all, crumbled Saltines are already great)—but know that the few minutes of extra work will lead you to your new favorite pasta topping. This would be wonderful with a lemony green salad or plate of ripe tomato wedges sprinkled with salt. Any leftovers will hold up for a day in the fridge—eat cold or room-temperature, like pasta salad. You can also easily double the recipe to serve a bigger group. —Emma Laperruque
2 to 4
unsalted butter, divided
stalks celery, thinly sliced
leek, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
scallions, thinly sliced (both the white and green parts)
kosher salt, plus more to taste
jumbo lump crab meat, drained as much as possible
short-shaped pasta (such as shells, rigatoni, farfalle, or penne)
finely chopped chives
In This Recipe
Set a large pot of water, covered with a lid, on the stove to come to a boil.
Add 2 tablespoons butter to a very large skillet over medium heat. When the butter has melted and the skillet is hot, add the prepped celery, leek, and scallion. Sprinkle with a big pinch of salt and stir to coat all the vegetables in the butter. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to brown.
Once the vegetables are tender, push them toward the perimeter of the pan, so there’s a big empty circle in the center. Add another 1 tablespoon butter to melt. Now add the crab meat and sprinkle with salt. Cook the crab meat for about 4 minutes, until it’s just starting to brown in places, flipping halfway through. Pour 1 tablespoon lemon juice on top of the vegetables and crab, then gently stir to incorporate. Turn off the heat.
Is the water boiling? Great. Season it generously with salt (I estimate 1 tablespoon kosher salt per 1 quart of water). Add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until al dente.
While the pasta cooks, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Crush the Saltines with your hands, then add to the butter. Toss to coat. Toast the Saltine crumbs for about 3 minutes, or until golden-brown. Sprinkle with salt.
Now, combine the mayo, Old Bay, Dijon, Worcestershire, and remaining 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in a big bowl. Taste and adjust the seasoning accordingly.
When the pasta is done, reserve ½ cup or so of pasta water, then drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the bowl with the Old Bay sauce, give a quick toss, then add the crab-vegetable mixture, about half the chopped chives, and a tablespoon of reserved pasta water. Gingerly toss again, taking care not to break up the crab lumps. (Does it need more pasta water to loosen up? Add a small splash if so.)
Serve immediately, with the fried Saltines and remaining chives sprinkled on top.
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.