Food & Drink

Louisiana Garlic Crabs

Serves 4

Break out the napkins for garlic-butter-drenched crabs

Photo: Johnny Autry

You don’t buy seafood at the supermarket in Chauvin, Louisiana, where the Gulf of Mexico imbues everyday life. You don’t waste any of the Gulf’s bounty, either. “My grandma used to boil spaghetti in oyster water,” says Melissa Martin, a shrimper’s daughter from the tiny bayou town. Crab is the most abundant resource of all. “We do everything that can be done with crab, because it’s everywhere and it’s basically free,” Martin says. “Stewed, stuffed, fried, deviled—you name it.” Like cooks across the South, Martin also tosses boiled crabs into pools of fragrant garlic butter. After a stint in California, she moved to New Orleans, where she helped launch Satsuma Café and began revisiting her family’s country cooking. She asked for recipes from her mother and her five aunts, who were happy to share their secrets. That eventually led Martin to create the Mosquito Supper Club, a Thursday-night pop-up from September to May at which she serves family-style dishes of bayou staples like gumbo, oyster soup, and, naturally, garlic crabs. “In Chauvin, you’d probably get more spices,” she says. “I like to keep things simple.” She’s a practical-minded cook, too. Martin saves the crab-boiling water for other recipes that call for richly flavored stock, like soup or gumbo. “We get all the flavor we can out of our ingredients,” she says.


  • For the crabs

    • 12 live blue crabs

    • 3 onions, halved

    • 6 celery stalks

    • 1 head garlic, halved

    • 4 lemons, halved

    • 1 tbsp. cayenne pepper

    • 2 tbsp. Louisiana hot sauce

    • 2 tbsp. salt

    • 1 bay leaf

  • Sauce

    • 12 cloves garlic, divided

    • Zest and juice of 1 lemon

    • 1 bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

    • 1 tsp. salt

    • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

    • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

    • 2 tbsp. Louisiana hot sauce

    • 3 bay leaves

    • 1/2 cup olive oil, divided

    • 1 stick unsalted butter, divided


  1. To prepare the crabs, add all ingredients except crabs to a large stockpot. Fill halfway with cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to medium low and simmer for 1 hour before returning to a boil and adding crabs. Cook crabs for 8 minutes, then remove with tongs and shock in an ice bath. Clean crabs and proceed with recipe.

  2. Preheat oven to 450˚F.

  3. Chop 6 cloves garlic and combine in a bowl with lemon zest and parsley, then set aside. In a large mixing bowl, toss crabs with salt, black pepper, cayenne, hot sauce, and bay leaves. Place a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, and add ¼ cup olive oil and 3 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled. When garlic becomes fragrant, add 6 crabs and sauté on each side for about 3 minutes, flipping only once. Remove crabs and garlic from skillet and repeat with the remaining oil, garlic, and crabs. 

  4. Remove crabs and melt 4 tbsp. butter in the pan; toss with crabs to coat. (If needed, divide crabs between two skillets or move to one large roasting pan.) Place in the oven for 6 minutes, flipping crabs halfway through. Remove from oven and add the remaining 4 tbsp. butter and the garlic-lemon-parsley mixture. Season to taste with lemon juice. Serve with rice or crusty bread.

Recipe from chef Melissa Martin of Mosquito Supper Club in New Orleans, Louisiana

Hot Tip:

Make sure the crabs are alive before they go into the stockpot. If you need to buy them ahead of time, store them in a breathable paper grocery bag in the refrigerator for up to a day.