Colman’s Crab Gratin with Whisky

The inspiration for this dish came from a book called Cook Now: Dine Later by Catherine Althaus and Peter ffrench-Hodges which was first published in 1969. As a recipe book it’s a true child of ‘60s cooking, so the wonderful crab concoction they describe was actually stuffed into one of that decade’s ubiquitous vol-au-vent.

Their recipe also used powdered mustard and milk, which made it rather liquid; and they used brandy rather than whisky, which I don’t think manages quite as well to keep it’s end up against the Colman’s.

You can, of course, make the crab mixture the day before, and then add the breadcrumb topping and bake a day (but no longer) later.

This is what to do.


Recipe for Colman’s crab gratin with whisky

Serves two as a lunch with a green salad; or make in large ramekins and serve as a starter.


  • 225g/8 oz crabmeat (check there’s no bone or shell remaining)
  • 60g/2 oz mushrooms
  • 1 banana shallot
  • knob or two of butter
  • oil for frying
  • 2 tbsp thick double cream
  • 1 tsp Colman’s made up mustard
  • 1 tbsp whisky
  • smoked salt and freshly ground Indonesian long pepper
  • 4 tbsp breadcrumbs mixed with dried Herbes de Provence and chopped pistachios (you can buy this at Sainsbury’s ready-mixed)


  1. Preheat the oven to 210°C.
  2. Peel and chop the shallot and fry gently in a little oil in a small saucepan.
  3. Peel and slice the mushrooms and add to the shallot once that has begun to turn translucent.
  4. When the mushrooms look as if they just beginning to cook – three or four minutes – take out shallot and mushrooms and keep warm.
  5. Add a couple of knobs of butter (try one to begin with and add more butter later if the crab looks a little dry), get it starting to foam and add the crab meat. Keep the heat up and keep stirring.
  6. Add the whisky.
  7. Add the mustard.
  8. Add a little salt and pepper.
  9. Bring to the boil briefly.
  10. Leave the mixture to cool a little and then add the double cream, one desert spoon at a time – you may not need it all – if it starts to become too liquid, stop.
  11. Transfer to an oven-proof dish. Top with the breadcrumbs and a knob of butter.
  12. Bake in the oven for about ten minutes.
  13. If you have a sliver of lime, or some lime zest, use that to garnish.


This post is dedicated to Susi Carrington.

crab gratin recipe
It’s a nice idea to garnish with a little lime zest.



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