Food & Drink

A Chesapeake Classic: Rockfish Crab Imperial

The Maryland chef Jordan Lloyd shares his best at-home crab tips and recipe

Photo: Cassidy MR Photography

Born and raised in Talbot County, on the Chesapeake Bay, Jordan Lloyd feels right at home amid the crabbing culture of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. “My stepfather was a crabber,” Lloyd says. “That was how he made his living. Watermen are the Renaissance men of the Eastern Shore. They work with the seasons—crabbing during crab season, catching perch in January, and when they can’t be out on the water, they’re carpenters building people’s homes.” 

It’s natural, then, that Lloyd has celebrated the seafood of his native Chesapeake throughout his career in the kitchen. Now, as executive chef of Tickler’s Crab Shack and Restaurant, an open-air, waterside joint tucked behind the Wylder Hotel on Tilghman Island, he serves Chesapeake oyster po’boys, blue crab hushpuppies, and plain old Maryland steamed crabs. 

Jordan Lloyd.

That’s one thing Lloyd is adamant about: Marylanders do not boil crabs. “Boiling dilutes the natural juices and flavors within the shell,” he says. “Steaming firms up the flesh and gives you a delicate, sweet, delicious meat.” 

For crabbers at home, Lloyd has a few must-follow steaming tips. “You have to get them in a big enough pot,” he says. “I always a use one- to three-gallon bucket per dozen.” He also likes to steam his crabs with water diluted with whatever beer he pulls out of his fridge, to add a little extra flavor. “Another trick I do is use a cake tester to see if it’s done,” he says. “I put it straight into the crab, and then touch the back of my hand [with it]. If it’s hot, it’s done. If not, it needs more time.”  

For those looking to dress up the classic crab, Lloyd recommends his rockfish crab imperial. The dish—wild bass stuffed or topped with lump crab—brings together two of the area’s most beloved ingredients. “That’s why it’s a Maryland classic.” 


    • 1 lb. jumbo lump Maryland crabmeat

    • 1 egg yolk

    • 1 tsp. Old Bay

    • ¾ cup mayonnaise

    • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard

    • ½ tsp. Worcestershire

    • 2 tsp. whole milk

    • 1 tsp. lemon juice

    • 1 tbsp. parsley, chopped

    • Salt

    • 4 filets wild striped bass, roughly 5 oz. each


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

  2. Empty jumbo lump crab meat into a bowl and clean out any shells.

  3. In a small bowl, whip the egg yolk and Old Bay together until doubled in volume. Fold mayonnaise, Dijon, and Worcestershire into the mixture thoroughly. 

  4. Reserve 25 percent of the mixture, and add milk, lemon, and parsley to that reserved amount; this will serve as the final glaze. 

  5. Pour the remaining sauce over the crab to create the imperial stuffing. Season with a pinch of salt. Lightly fold the ingredients together, making sure not to break the crab lumps. 

  6. Lightly rinse each filet in cold salted water, then pat dry. Season each filet with salt. 

  7. For a thin, long filet, split the filet down the center keeping the ends intact. Lay the filets on a lightly buttered sheet pan. Create an oval shaped hole with each filet and stuff the imperial stuffing into the oval. If the filet is short and fat, spread the imperial base across the top evenly. 

  8. Evenly coat each stuffed rockfish filet with the reserved imperial sauce. This step can be done hours or even a day in advance and refrigerated until ready to cook. 

  9. Bake for 10 to 14 minutes, until the center of the fish filet and crab imperial stuffing are hot. To check the internal temperature, insert a thin paring knife into the center, then touch the knife to the back of your hand to check heat. If using a thermometer, 140 degrees is a suitable temperature. The glaze should be lightly browned and slightly puffed.

  10. With a spatula, place the rockfish imperial on your serving platter. Serve with a fresh spritz lemon and a pinch of sea salt.