Flaked crab is paired with pasta and peppers in this Crab Pasta Salad. It is tossed in a creamy and tangy dressing made with mayonnaise, old bay seasoning, celery salt, and more. A great make-ahead salad best served slightly chilled with your favourite grilled beef! It’s surf and turf – summer style!
In May, I shared my recipe for Creamy Crab Salad. It’s a salad that is prepared with imitation crab, corn, cheese, chives, and seasonings. I shared the post on all of my social media platforms, like I do with all of my recipes on the day I hit publish. This time, however, in one Facebook recipe group, my Creamy Crab Salad received well over 200 comments, most of which were pure hate and mockery. Let’s see if I can win them over with this Crab Pasta Salad.
The main concern that most of these people had was not that I used imitation crab. They were gobsmacked that I would even consider tossing crab with corn in a salad. But, do you know what, Dear Reader? I stand by it! That crab salad was absolutely delicious! It wasn’t my first time making it, and it will most certainly not be my last! I think it all comes down to this – it’s odd, yes, I admit it. But, like a good book and its cover, we shouldn’t judge a dish so harshly until we try it. Right!?
So, in spite of the naysayers, I’m back today with another crab recipe. And, yes, Dear Reader, I’m using imitation crab again. Why? Because we happen to like it, and it’s cheap! Would I – or could you? – use real crab in its place? Yes. But real crab is expensive and I would want it to eat it just dipped in melted butter!
Essentially, I started this post with a proclamation. And, I think it’s work repeating. Are you ready for it? Here goes! There is nothing wrong with imitation crab. There, I’ve said it! I have been buying imitation crab for almost twenty years. Would I prefer real crab meat? Of course I would! But, I’m far from rich, and I live nowhere near an ocean. Depending on where you live, crab meat can be very expensive. And, to be honest, imitation crab is quite good!
You might need to try a few brands to find the right imitation crab for you. I’ve tried a few that I didn’t care for too much at all. Sometimes, they can be too salty, and sometimes, they can taste like nothing. I mean that! In the past, I have purchased imitation crab that had absolutely zero flavour. So, before you give up on it, try a few brands first.
My favourite brand, Sea Quest, is luckily the most recognizable and easily found imitation crab. Here in Ontario, it’s available in almost every grocery store. From my experience, flaked imitation crab tastes better than stick imitation crab. If you’re new to imitation crab, start with flaked crab first. It always has a better flavour and texture. And, when you use it in this Crab Pasta Salad, it’s even better!
ONE VERY SPECIAL INGREDIENT
There are probably thousands of crab salad recipes out there. But, each one of them is probably just a little bit different. We all make recipes our own way and adapt them slightly to suit our personal tastes. In fact, I highly encourage you to make my recipes your own. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try something new in an existing recipe. My only warning is to stay true to baking recipes, because those are carefully measured and usually quite precise.
The one very special ingredient that makes this Crab Pasta Salad so delicious and authentically seafood-ish, is Old Bay Seasoning. If you don’t already have some on hand, I highly encourage you to buy some. It isn’t expensive and you can use it in other seafood dishes too. In fact, forget seafood, I used it in my Old Bay Chicken Wings, and they are delicious!
WHAT IS OLD BAY SEASONING?
Here’s a bit of trivia for you. Did you know that Old Bay Seasoning was developed by a German immigrant to Maryland, US, in 1939? Fresh crab was so popular to the area that local bars used to cook them up and give them to their patrons for free – kinda like some bars nowadays with bowls of peanuts. Well, to encourage patrons to buy more drinks at the bar, the seasoning blend was invented by Gustav Brunn with excess amounts of salt; the more seasoned crab patrons ate, the thirstier they became!
The seasoning mix includes mustard, paprika, celery salt, bay leaf, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, mace, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, and ginger. The seasoning is mostly used to season crab and shrimp, but it can also be used in chowders and stews.
But, with a seasoning as delicious as Old Bay, why stop there? The seasoning could also be used as a topping on popcorn, salads, eggs, fried chicken, French fries, corn on the cob, baked potato, potato salad, and even homemade potato chips. Quite versatile, isn’t it!?
HERE’S THE OTHER INGREDIENTS YOU WILL NEED
So, we have talked about the crab and the old bay seasoning. The remaining ingredients is what I would call the basics and you probably have them in your pantry or fridge already. Let’s see, there’s pasta, mayonnaise, celery salt, old bay seasoning, ground black pepper, and Italian salad dressing. Those are pretty basic spice rack, pantry, and fridge items. The only fresh produce you need are bell peppers and chives.
This is a creamy Crab Pasta Salad, so we need something creamy. For me, the choice is mayonnaise. Mayonnaise and seafood work perfectly together. The imitation crab will soak up the tanginess of the mayo. You will also need some Italian salad dressing. It’s a great, versatile dressing that is oil based. Many of the common seasonings found in the dressing work well with crab, such as basil, oregano, salt, black pepper, garlic, thyme, rosemary, etc.
In addition to that, you will need some chives. Please do not use dehydrated chives from your spice rack. Use fresh chives. The flavour profile is completely different and you will certainly taste the freshness. One other fresh ingredient is the bell peppers. You can use any colour and you can dice them or roughly chop them. I like to use the mini peppers. I slice them so that I have a bunch of red, yellow, and orange pepper rings dispersed throughout the salad.
By the way, you can skip the celery salt and add some diced celery to your salad. In our home, celery is not a well-loved ingredient by some, so I often leave it out so that all of us can enjoy the dish.
HOW TO GET THE MOST FLAVOUR INTO YOUR SALAD
Once you have mixed all of your salad ingredients together, there is one more thing that you can do to get the best results. It’s simply and costs no money at all. All you need to do is to cover the salad well, and store it in your fridge for at least two hours. This will give the ingredients time to get to know one another and marry together.
The salad will keep in your fridge for three days. Be sure to toss it well before serving as some of the sauce mixture might have settled to the bottom. That’s it. Now, enjoy!
Crab Pasta Salad
- 2 pounds flaked imitation crab (completely thawed if previously frozen)
- 450 grams pasta shells, cooked and drained well (penne, fusilli, rigatoni, orecchiette, etc.)
- 6 whole mini bell peppers, thinly sliced (can substitute with one cup of diced bell peppers of any colour)
- 1/4 cup chives, freshly chopped
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup Italian salad dressing
- 1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
- 1 teaspoon celery salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- parsley for garnish
- Add the mayonnaise, Italian salad dressing, chives, Old Bay Seasoning, celery salt, and ground black pepper to a bowl. Whisk to combine. Set aside.
- Flake the imitation crab into a large bowl.
- Add the cooked pasta and the bell peppers.
- Pour in the mayonnaise mixture and toss gently and coat evenly.
- Taste and season with salt if needed.
- Transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid. Refrigerate for at least two hours before serving.
- Can be safely stored in the fridge for two days.