The first year I hosted Thanksgiving, my now sister-in-law, Lauren, offered to bring an appetizer that had become a tradition at her family’s holiday dinners. The little bites were called crab meat muffins and consisted of a cheesy crab mixture that was spread atop quartered English muffins and baked until golden brown. As I watched Lauren prepare them, I wondered how good these muffins were going to taste—truth be told the mixture looked pretty unappetizing. But Lauren reassured me that once they emerged from the oven, I would be astounded at the results. And she was right. These “muffins” were fantastic. Buttery and warm and just all around good. The platter barely made it to the table before every last one was devoured. My family liked them so much, I got the recipe from Lauren and made them for Christmas Eve dinner.
I thought about the muffins again this summer when they showed up at my friend Heather’s bridal shower, courtesy of her now sister-in-law. The name was different—Jeannine calls them crabbies— but they tasted just as good, as evidenced by the speed at which our guests ate them. Yes this recipe is a crowdpleaser, but there was just one problem: it calls for Old English Cheese spread, which is about as processed a food as they come. It’s made by Kraft and looks like a gelatinous orange blob in a jar. And it’s almost impossible to find in New York City grocery stores, which should probably tell you something right there.
As I started thinking about my Thanksgiving dinner for this year, I began to wonder if there was a way to make my own unprocessed Old English cheese spread. I Googled this, and lo and behold a recipe came up. I decided I would make the muffins using fresh crab meat and multigrain English muffins. And I would try this new and improved version out on our friends Emily and Andy, who were coming over for pre-dinner cocktails last Saturday night.
Things did not go as well as I had hoped. I made the cheese spread and then put it in the refrigerator to chill as the recipe dictated. Only when I went to retrieve it, it had hardened into a firm block, which I then had to reheat, causing the oils from the cheese to separate. The claw crab meat overpowered the other ingredients, I didn’t add enough butter (it called for a 1/4 pound of butter, which I read as a 1/4 cup. But a 1/4 pound of butter is really a 1/2 cup) and the multigrain muffins didn’t mesh well with the other flavors. So while the apps were edible, they weren’t nearly as fabulous as the ones that inspired it.
Before I could blog about it, I knew I had to fix this recipe. Which, thankfully I just did. This new batch just emerged from the oven and they taste delightfully good. This time I halved the cheese spread recipe and used Mammoth aged cheddar, but I think any medium cheddar will do. (Try and use a brand that’s rbGH free). I also went with canned crab meat, but I opted for white lump and I made sure to read the label—the first ingredient was lump crab meat, which was a plus. I also used regular English muffins rather than multigrain, but I bet whole wheat would be fine too. If you are looking for an appetizer for your holiday dinner, this is it. But be forewarned: they won’t last long.
Old English Cheese Spread
1/8 cup mayonnaise
1/8 cup half and half
1/2 pound medium cheddar cheese, cubed
1/2 teaspoon spicy brown mustard
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/6 cup tomato juice
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons horseradish
1 tablespoon scallions, thinly sliced
In saucepan, combine mayonnaise, milk, cheese, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and garlic powder. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until smooth. Remove from heat. Stir in juice, horseradish and green onions.
Once the cheese mixture was done, I immediately added the following:
1 6 ounce can of white lump crab meat
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 cup butter
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon Lawry’s Seasoned Salt (I made my own version of seasoned salt, the recipe for which is further down)
You’ll also need 6 English muffins, split in half, and then each half quartered.
Stir everything together and then spread the mixture on top of the muffins. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes.
Seasoned Salt (adapted from Food.com)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon tumeric (I left the tumeric out, but if you have it on hand, add it in)
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cornstarch
Mix all ingredients together. Store in an airtight container.