These mini mac & cheese bites are ooey-gooey with just a touch of crab for an elegant twist that makes them the perfect party appetizer!
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While mac & cheese may not exactly be part of your New Year's healthier eating plan, I believe indulgences are an important part of life, so I'm sharing one of my favorite indulgences - Crab Mac & Cheese!! I mean, what's not to like about crab, creamy cheese, and pasta!!
When I was a kid my grandmother used to make mac & cheese for us when we went to visit. I'm not talking about something that comes from a box or out of the freezer, I'm talking about real cheesy delicious baked mac & cheese from scratch! Even since then, homemade mac & cheese has always been one of my favorite things. I love to mix it up with different types of cheese and different things added in.
I fashioned these into mini bites so you can either serve them as a party appetizer or if you are in the mood for comfort food you can grab a couple of them for lunch or dinner. The nice part about making them minis is you can decide how many you want to cook (or reheat) at one time. They are absolute gooey, cheesy perfection!!
Why you’ll love this recipe
- Simple ingredients. Other than the crab meat, the ingreidents for this receipe are pretty simple and you may already have them in your panty and fridge.
- Make-ahead option. You can do most of the prep work ahead of time so all you have to do is bake and serve when it's party time!
- Great for parties. With a creamy cheese sauce and a touch of crab, these bites are always a hit with party guests.
The full list of ingredients and quantities can be found in the recipe card below.
- Lump crab meat: You can generally find lump crab meat in the seafood section of the grocery store.
- Elbow pasta: While I have tried it, I don't recommend gluten-free pasta for this recipe as the bites won't hold together very well.
- Cheese: I generally use a combination of yellow and white cheddar with a little parmesan or asiago thrown in. You could also add some mozarella, goudo or swiss cheese if you like.
- Milk: 2% milk is ideal as it will give the cheese sauce the best consistency.
- Bread crumbs: I generally prefer to use panko bread crumbs in most recipes, however, you could also use standard Italian bread crumbs.
- Spices: ground nutmeg, sea salt, ground pepper
- Pantry staples: all-purpose flour, salted butter
How to make this recipe
I love this dish because it can be prepped ahead of time and it gives you an elegant, tasty appetizer that is always a hit with party guests.
Cook the pasta. Boil the pasta in well-salted water, making sure to follow the package directions for timing for al dente pasta. Drain the cooked pasta and set it aside.
Prepare the muffin cups. Spray each muffin cup with non-stick cooking spray and then sprinkle a bit of the panko breadcrumbs in the bottom of each muffin cup.
Make the cheese sauce. This cheese sauce starts with a roux (a mix of flour and melted butter). First, you melt the butter and then stir in the flour and cook for about 30 seconds. Then you'll slowly add the milk, stirring constantly until small bubbles form at the edges of the pan. To get a smooth cheese sauce, you want to remove the pan from the heat and add the grated cheeses, stirring until the cheese melts and you have a smooth sauce.
Make the bites. You'll add the cooked pasta and the crab meat to the cheese sauce, and stir until everything is coated. Using a small spoon or dough scoop, add the pasta mixture to each muffin cup, repeating until all of the pasta has been used.
Bake the bites. Bake the bites for about 20 minutes, until the edges start to turn golden brown. Remove the pans from the oven and let the bites cool for about 10 minutes before removing them from the muffin pans. Serve immediately.
Make-ahead tip: Since these are cooked in a mini muffin pan these can be pre-assembled, refrigerated for a few hours, and cooked right before the guests arrive. Since the sauce is dairy-based, I don’t recommend freezing these bites.
Additional notes from the kitchen
- The recipe is designed to make about 3 dozen bites, however if you want more you can always double it. They will keep in your refrigerator for 2-3 days after baking. For best results when reheating, place them in the oven at 250°F for 10-15 minutes.
Tools you'll want for this recipe
Mini Muffin Pans – Mini muffins tins are a super handy kitchen tool. I'd recommend enough to make at least 24 minis. I happen to like the 12 per pan size as they are easy to store and sometimes I only want to make 12 minis!
Coconut Oil Spray - I've switched to mostly using coconut oil spray when I need non-stick spray for cooking. Look for one like Spectrum that is expeller pressed. You can also use standard coconut oil to grease pans like the muffin tins if you prefer not to use a spray.
Or check out all of the appetizer recipes for more interesting ideas.
If you want to serve them as more of a light dinner, I'd pair them with a simple green salad or this chopped kale salad for some greens.
Crab Mac & Cheese Bites Recipe
- ½ pound mini elbow pasta
- ¼ cup panko bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon salted butter
- 1 ½ tablespoon all-purpose flour
- pinch of nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 ¼ cups 2% milk
- 2 cups grated cheese, pick your favorite types
- 4 oz lump crab meat
- Heat the oven. Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Cook the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add pasta and cook until al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain well.
- Prepare the muffin cups. Spray 36 mini muffin cups with coconut oil spray, or coat with coconut oil. Sprinkle the bottom of each muffin cup with a small amount of panko.
- Make the cheese sauce. In a large saucepan melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook for 2 minutes. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper and whisk until combined. Whisk in the milk and cook until small bubbles form at the edges of the pan; about 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat and add the cheese, stirring constantly until smooth. Add the pasta and crab, stir until coated with the cheese sauce.
- Bake the bites. Using a small dough scoop add about a tablespoon of the mixture to each muffin cup. Bake for 20 minutes or until the edges of the pasta begin to turn golden brown. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes. Carefully remove each bite from the muffin tin and serve immediately.