If you grew up anywhere around Tampa Bay, then you should know what a Deviled Crab Roll is. Nearly every restaurant in Ybor City, the Cuban neighborhood of Tampa, and several food trucks around town serve them. However, as truly “Florida” as a Deviled Crab is, outside Tampa Bay, they’re virtually unheard of.
Deviled crab is simply a crab meat croquette. The crab meat is slowly cooked with Cuban-style seasonings, encased in a dough made from stale Cuban bread, rolled into the shape of a football, and deep fried. Then, to top it all off, their served with hot sauce and a slice of lemon.
Although similar to a Maryland crab cake, the deviled crab originated in the Ybor City immigrant community of Tampa, Florida during the cigar workers strike in the 1920s. The dish is traditionally made with blue crab, seasoned uses a unique Cuban-style enchilada / sofrito sauce, whose spiciness lends the “devil'” part of the name. And while deviled crab is meant to be eaten with one hand, most are so big that a fork and knife are preferred.
Deviled Crabs are time consuming to make, and it usually helps to employ a small assembly line of workers…aka your neighbors, friends, or children. However, they are totally worth it. My mom and our neighbors would spend days assembling all of the ingredients, from trips to Tampa to get LaSegunda Cuban bread and letting it stale to picking fresh crab meat from the shells. Then, they would carefully pass the crab rolls down their assembly line, each person adding another layer of ingredients until the roll was ready for frying at the end of the line. Lucky for me, Mom always saved a few for freezing, which meant I could have Deviled Crabs later in the week.
Most Deviled Crab recipes are similar, if not the same, and as complex as it tastes, the filling is actually quite simple to make. However, if the recipe seems daunting, don’t fret. There are plenty of Ybor City restaurants who will take care of you. The best Deviled Crabs in Ybor City are at the Columbia Restaurant, Gaspar’s Grotto, Carmine’s, and Michelle Faedo’s On the Go Food Truck.
Deviled Crab Dough:
3 loaves stale American Bread – no crusts
1 loaf stale Cuban bread – ground very fine and sifted
1 TBSP paprika
1 tsp salt
Soak American bread in water 15 minutes. Remove, squeeze until almost dry. Add Cuban bread gradually until dough is formed. Add paprika, salt. Mix well. Make ball from dough. Place in fridge about 3 hours
3 onions finely chopped
½ red or green pepper finely chopped (or both)
4 garlic cloves mashed
1 tsp crushed red hot pepper (Italian style)
2 bay leaves
½ tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
6 oz tomato paste
1 lb can crab meat – picked over and shredded
Fry onion, pepper(s), garlic, hot pepper in oil for 15 mins over medium-low heat. Add bay leaves, sugar, salt, tomato paste. Stir. Cover and cook 15 minutes on low heat. Add crabmeat. Cook 10 minutes and then uncover. Cool until you can handle it.
Take about 3 tablespoons dough. Press in the palm of your hand. Add 1 tbsp crab mix. Seal like croquette with 2 pointed ends.
Dip into following mixture:
2 eggs well beaten with ½ cup milk, salt, dash black pepper. Mix 1 cup crushed crackers (cracker meal) and ½ cup plain flour. Roll crab rolls first in cracker/flour, then in egg mix, then in cracker/flour again. Refrigerate 2 hours. Deep fry until brown. Serves about 12.