CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Crab Casserole

Lent is just around the corner, which means it’s fish fry season. But I can remember a time when there was a fish fry every Friday night at the American Legion Club in my hometown of Crookston, Minn.

I recall trips to the Legion as a kid, but they were few and far between. Our Fridays were usually dominated by tuna hotdish, tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches and salmon loaf.

That was back in the day when Catholics couldn’t eat meat on Fridays as well as Ash Wednesday during Lent. That fell by the wayside in 1966, when the Second Vatican Council relaxed the law to the point where Catholics like me were virtually freed from the obligation.

I still love a good fish fry. Sacred Heart Catholic Church in East Grand Forks, Minn., has one every Friday during Lent. Across the river in Grand Forks, N.D., St. Michael’s Catholic Church has two during Lent. In fact, many small towns up and down the Red River Valley have a fish fry every Friday during Lent, either at churches or clubs.

My taste for meatless meals has grown over the years. We eat a lot of seafood, including salmon, halibut, tilapia and cod, and freshwater species such as walleye, perch and crappie, when the opportunity presents itself. Imitation crab meat is another favorite.

While imitation crab isn’t technically seafood, it’s a good substitute that’s fairly inexpensive. Here’s a tasty imitation crab recipe that can be made in no time, one I wish my Mom would have known about. It would have been a good change of pace from the aforementioned entrees — albeit tasty — she used to serve us.

Crab Casserole
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon milk
½ tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Dash lemon juice
1¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon fine pink Himalayan salt
½ teaspoon sugar
½ cup green onions, thinly sliced
½ cup celery, thinly sliced
16 ounces imitation crab meat
¼ cup shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
¼ cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1 teaspoon snipped chives for garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add sour cream, mayonnaise, milk, Worcestershire sauce, a few drops of lemon juice, garlic, salt and sugar. Beat until fairly smooth. Stir in the green onions and celery; mix well. Stir in the imitation crab meat. Spread the mixture in an 8-by-8-inch greased baking dish. Sprinkle top with cheeses. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes, until cheese is melted and lightly browned. Garnish with chives if desired. Serve hot or warm. Promptly cover and refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days. Gently rewarm individual portions in microwave on half power.

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