Grammie Hamblet’s Deviled Crab…and a little story about James Beard

Deviled Crab


This dish isn’t much to look at, but if you like the taste of crabmeat fresh out of the ocean you will love this recipe.  It is from “The Armchair James Beard,” edited by John Ferrone.  It’s a fascinating read about the great culinary artist, James Beard, with articles by Beard himself, and is an excellent scratch cooking gourmet cookbook.  It’s a favorite of mine because Beard was born right here in Portland, Oregon, in 1903, and spent many of his early years in Gearhart, a quiet little town on the north Oregon coast where my great-grandparents also had a summer home.  It wasn’t until his mid-twenties that he headed for New York to make his mark in the culinary world.  His family lived here in Portland so he came back to visit and even taught cooking classes in the 1970’s in the close by town of Seaside.  In those years I was going to school and raising kids and don’t know if I even knew who James Beard was, but today I would give almost anything to be able to take one of those classes.

Throughout his life, Beard was blessed with an extremely good sense of taste. He could remember flavors much like a person with a photographic memory recalls images. His mother was an accomplished cook and used only the finest, freshest ingredients bought from the farmers who grew it. Good local seafood was plentiful in Portland and it’s the abundance and availability of these ingredients that shaped his love for food and his style of cooking.

Dungeness Crab - Deviled

This recipe for Grammie Hamblet’s Deviled Crab is one of James Beard’s earliest and best known recipes.  I found a old, discolored clipping of it in one of my mother’s recipe files  and remember her making this dish for special occasions.  Even back then crabmeat was expensive but my grandparents lived at the coast and had a boat they took out in the bay at Tillamook and put out their own crab pots. When the catch was good we celebrated with big crab dinners.   During crab season it is usually plentiful in the better fish markets but, even though it is caught right off our coastline,  it costs almost a fortune to buy it.  I hear that most of it goes off to Asian markets where they don’t mind paying very high prices for our beloved Dungeness crab.  So…with that in mind this is a good recipe for those who love crab.  One pound of crab will serve 4 adults.  The recipe is so simple…just chop the vegetables very fine and crush up the soda crackers.  When it’s baked it tastes like it is all crab meat with a little crunch and wonderful flavor.

Dungeness Crab photo 2

Dungeness Crab

Dungeness is a crab that inhabits grass beds and water bottoms all the way from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska down through the Pacific Ocean waters of California and even into parts of the Gulf of Mexico. They are named after Dungeness, Washington, which is located near Port Angeles, WA, in the Puget Sound area. This area is where Captain George Vancouver explored in the Strait of Juan de Fuca along the northern area of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula in the late eighteenth century. Dungeness Crab is hailed as one of the most iconic foods in the Great Pacific Northwest!   You can read more about this highly prized crustacean HERE.

PicMonkey Collage (1)

Gearhart, Oregon

Gearhart is still a very small community on Oregon’s north coast.  Even today it consists of a not very busy 4-way stop in the center of town. It was there that James Beard learned to savor wild berries, hazelnuts, and salmon—silvery coho and the mighty Chinook, the Pacific’s largest salmon species. Oregon also offers halibut, albacore tuna, whiting, clams, oysters, shrimp, and, best of all, Dungeness crab…resources he used to create many of his best known recipes. James Beard passed away in 1985 and his ashes were scattered in the ocean off Gearhart.    Looking back, his friend Julia Child summed up his contributions to the food world:  “In the beginning, was Beard.”

Grammie Hamblet’s Deviled Crab
  • 1 cup celery, very finely chopped
  • 1 medium green or red pepper, very finely chopped
  • 1 cup green onions, very finely chopped
  • ½ cup parsley, very finely chopped
  • 2 pounds Dungeness crabmeat
  • 2-1/2 cups of crushed cracker crumbs. I used Saltines
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1 healthy dash Tobasco
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup butter, melted
  1. Combine the ingredients and toss lightly with a spoon. Top with addition buttered bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until delicately browned.
  2. This recipe will serve 8. Can easily be cut in half.
  3. Serve with a brisk white wine - preferably one from Oregon.


  1. says

    Hi Cathy, I love Dungeness crab, I never knew that story about James Beard, I learned something new today!
    You live in such a beautiful area, there’s nothing like that Oregon coastline, the fish is out of this world fresh and the wines are wonderful, a match made in heaven. I want to eat this deviled crab looking out at the ocean!
    Marie recently posted..Blossom Onions Grilled and Planked with Red Pepper AioliMy Profile

  2. says

    I could very easily live off seafood, so this recipe really appeals to me. I would so like living near the ocean instead of being stuck in the center of the country among the wheat fields!
    Have a great week, Cathy.
    Marigene recently posted..Paisley and PalmsMy Profile

  3. Happier Than A Pig In Mud says

    I don’t eat much seafood but love crab cakes-this sounds like a wonderful meal:@)

  4. says

    That’s such an interesting story about James Beard and your family’s history living on the coast. You are so lucky be live so close to fresh crab and seafood. About once every 3-4 weeks we have a shrimp vendor who comes in from the Texas Gulf coast and they usually also bring fresh, non-preserved crab meat from the east coast and I usually make crab cakes with it but this would be a delicious alternative and so much easier to put together for a dinner party. Bookmarking!
    Susan recently posted..Rhubarb-Strawberry Cake with Orange PeelMy Profile

  5. says

    Deviled crab has always been a favorite of mine. I have several of Beard’s cookbooks but I don’t know if this recipe is among them. Thanks for posting and reminding us all what a great contribution Beard made to the food that is prepared today by chefs that have been inspired by him.
    Karen (Back Road Journal) recently posted..Three Years On The Back RoadsMy Profile

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