Béchamel was the first fancy sauce I taught myself to make; adding cheese was the next step, and this particular cheese sauce just makes everything absolutely wonderful. Normally I wouldn’t use such a heavy sauce with such a precious ingredient as crab – you want to be able to taste the crab and let that flavor be the star of the show. However, this recipe started not as a showcase for the crab but, in the days of my grandmother Bessie Peets, as a way to stretch leftover crab that might spoil if you didn’t use it up soon. She’d make a cheesy crab au gratin over rice. This dish is simply delicious, going to show that sometimes the very best dishes are born out of necessity and the resourcefulness of a wise woman in the kitchen.

Serves 8 to 10
Organic olive oil cooking spray
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 bunch green onions, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
2 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon LuLu’s‘s Crazy Creola seasoning or other Creole seasoning
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
3 cups grated white cheddar cheese
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
2 pounds cooked jumbo lump blue crab meat, picked through carefully for shells, handled carefully to keep the meat in big chunks
4 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with olive oil spray.
2. Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and spray with olive oil. Place in the oven for 5 minutes, then remove and set aside to cool.
3. In a large sauce pan, melt the butter over medium-low heat.
4. Add the garlic and green onion and sauté for about two minutes.
5. Add the flour and stir to combine. Cook for 2 minutes, continuing to stir.
6. Stir in the evaporated milk and whole milk. Continue to stir until the sauce thickens.
7. Add the salt, white pepper, dry mustard, Creole seasoning, and thyme and stir together.
8. Add the white cheddar, almond extract, hot sauce, and parsley and stir together.
9. Spread half the crab meat over the prepared baking dish. Spoon the cheese sauce over the meat until all is covered. Sprinkle about half of the sharp cheddar on top.
10. Repeat and add the remaining sharp cheddar on top.
11. Bake for 30 minutes.
12. Turn the oven to broil and, watching closely, broil for about two minutes, or until the cheese starts to brown.
13. Remove the dish from the oven and sprinkle the toasted almonds on top. Let cool for 3 to 5 minutes before serving.