Any great meal gives thought to entree and side pairings, but sometimes it's a more precarious balancing act than others. Such is the case with a crab leg dinner. Because crabmeat has such a delicate, slightly sweet and buttery flavor, accompanying foods easily overpower it. Crab side dishes should be relatively mild without a strong lingering aftertaste.
Also, crab legs can be served hot, at room temperature or chilled, so consider whether or not you want to mix and match temperatures. If you're looking for crab dinner ideas that don't involve lots of cooking or preparation immediately beforehand, serving crab legs chilled with cold sides lets you get everything done in advance.
And don't lose sight of the fact that crab legs are a fun, potentially messy food that you eat with your hands. Finger foods and casual side dishes make more sense than anything particularly fancy or sophisticated.
Condiments and Dips for Crab Legs
Purists in Maryland might menacingly tell you not to dip your crab legs in anything, but most people prefer a more dynamic crab experience.
Keep it simple by just offering some lemon wedges and/or drawn butter. To make the latter, bring 1/2 pound of unsalted butter (per four servings) to a boil for 1 minute over medium-high heat. Let it rest for a few minutes away from the heat, then skim off the milk solids that have risen to the top; serve the drawn butter, excluding the most watery part at the bottom. If you want, stir in some minced garlic or dill.
For a few other quick and easy ideas (also per four servings):
- Put a heap of chopped chive in 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil, with or without some minced garlic or garlic salt, or red pepper flakes for heat.
- Stir 1 1/2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard into 3/4 cup of mayonnaise. Add a little minced horseradish, curry powder or hot sauce to taste if you want some kick.
- Make tartar sauce by mixing 2/3 cup of dill pickle relish, 2 tablespoons of minced white onion and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice into 2 cups of mayo.
Potatoes in Various Forms
You can never go wrong with America's favorite, incredibly versatile side item: potatoes. French fries are an obvious go-to as a complementary finger food for a crab leg dinner. There are enough store-bought options that you don't have to make your own, but consider something a little different, like waffle-cut fries or sweet potato fries. Or waffle-cut sweet potato fries, if you want to get really crazy.
Baked potatoes are a cinch to make, and can be topped with tasty stuff like butter, sour cream, crumbled bacon, grated cheddar, chopped chives and so on. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, wash some Russet potatoes, poke about 10 deep holes in each one all around with a fork, coat them in cooking oil and sprinkle them with salt, and then bake for about an hour until the skin is crisp and the flesh is soft.
Some other good potato sides for crab legs include:
- Mashed potatoes. Boil peeled baking potatoes for about 15 minutes, then mash them up while stirring in a gently heated mixture of milk and melted butter, plus salt and pepper to taste. Toasted garlic is a delicious addition, too.
- Roasted fingerling potatoes. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, wash and halve fingerling potatoes, coat them in cooking oil, toss them in a seasoning mixture (try salt, pepper, garlic powder and rosemary) and cook them in a single layer in a roasting pan for about 25 minutes until tender, tossing them once or twice while cooking.
- Potato salad. This is a good cold side dish option that you can buy or make countless different ways.
Steamed or Roasted Vegetables
Steamed or roasted vegetables work well as a side with any seafood, and crab legs are no different. And, of course, you can mix a few different types or go with a single veggie.
Steaming veggies is fast and easy, and plenty lend themselves to this preparation method like broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, peas, snow pea pods, leafy greens and Brussels sprouts. Cook them all together – but the harder and denser the veggie, the longer it needs to steam, so add something like cauliflower into the steaming basket before things like spinach or peas. Most veggies take between 3 and 10 minutes to reach fork-tender by steaming. Drizzle them with oil or melted butter, and sprinkle on some salt and pepper.
A roasted veggie mix like broccoli, cauliflower and carrots is another good crab leg side option. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Cut the florets into equal-sized pieces and cut baby carrots in half, lengthwise. Toss the veggies in a liberal amount of oil and some salt, pepper, garlic powder and any other seasoning you want to use. Spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast for about 25 minutes, flipping them two or three times throughout, until the veggies are attractively charred and fork-tender.
Corn on the Cob
Corn on the cob goes hand-in-claw with crab legs. They both have their own mild yet rich, subtly sweet and buttery flavor, and they're both fun, messy handheld foods. Get your corn fresh and preferably the same day you're making it – and refrigerate until cooking – for the sweetest specimens. If possible, grill the corn on the cob for a classic, exceptionally flavorful preparation. If you don't have access to a grill or agreeable weather, baking the corn is a fine alternative.
Preheat your grill for medium heat or preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Coat husked ears of corn in cooking oil or melted butter and season them with salt and pepper. Loosely wrap the ears in aluminum foil and grill or bake them for about 20 minutes to 25 minutes, flipping them once about halfway through, until the kernels are tender and release juice when pressed.
You can also grill corn on the cob in its husk instead of using foil, which a lot of people like to do. It makes for a nice, rustic presentation but remember, people are already going to have to work to eat the crab legs. Adding the task of husking and pulling strings off the corn to the effort of cracking and extracting meat from the crab legs might be too much labor for an enjoyable meal.
Asian-Inspired Cold Noodle Dishes
Cold noodle-based sides with an East Asian influence are tasty side options for crab legs. Just don't be too heavy-handed with the seasonings or use too many herbs and spices, lest you overwhelm the crustacean entree.
For example, cold sesame noodles are a fun, refreshing and relatively mild option, plus they're easy to make. Cook about 6 ounces of any type of long, thin Asian noodle to make four side servings. Drain them, and while they cool, make a dressing by mixing 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of canola oil, 2 tablespoons of sesame oil, 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon of sugar and 2 cloves of minced garlic. Sprinkle on some sesame seeds and thinly sliced green onion, add a little chili oil to taste for heat if you like and refrigerate to chill.
- Maine Lobster Now: Crab Dinner Sides
- Food Network: Drawn Butter for Steamed Lobster, Crabs, or Clams
- Food Network: Tartar Sauce
- Food Network: The Baked Potato
- Martha Stewart: Roasted Broccoli and Cauliflower with Lemon and Garlic
- What's Cooking America: Baked or Grilled Corn on the Cob Recipes
- Food Network: Simple Sesame Noodles
Eric Mohrman is a food and drink, lifestyle, and travel writer living in Orlando, Florida. He spent 10 years working front- and back-of-house in restaurants, adding professional experience to his love of eating and cooking. His stories on food and beverage topics have appeared in numerous print and web publications, including Visit Florida, Orlando Style Magazine, CrushBrew Magazine, Agent Magazine, Dollar Stretcher Magazine, The 863 Magazine and others.