There are several recipes for deviled crab, varying greatly in how they are cooked and served. The traditional version of deviled crab is a dense, breaded oval filled with crab, bread and spices and deep fried to be eaten right from the hand. This recipe evolved into a plated dish in which the crabmeat was spiced differently and the focus on being street fare was reduced; the crab was instead served inside its own shell or in a bowl. Other variations came about, especially from home cooks, who instead created baked deviled crab casseroles or formed them into loose patties that looked like crab cakes or croquettes.
Deviled crab originated in Florida as a food for migrant workers. The original recipe was simple and probably made form leftovers mixed with crab, which was very inexpensive and plentiful at the time. The first version to appear had only a few ingredients, namely crabmeat, bread and enchilada sauce that was mixed with some Latin American or Cuban spices. The mixture was formed into an oval, breaded and then deep fried. The idea was to provide a flavorful, affordable food that could be transported and eaten on the job without utensils.
The food became popular and started being sold by street vendors. Deviled crab moved into bars and restaurants at this point, mostly as an appetizer. Instead of focusing on the portability of the crab, the dish developed into a plated course in which the meat was more heavily spiced and baked instead of fried in some instances. The final meal could be served on a plate, in the upper shell of the crab or in a hot ramekin. Sauces were added to complete the dish.
In the home, deviled crab developed into a more family friendly dish. Sometimes, the mixture of crab, breadcrumbs and spices would be placed into a casserole dish and then baked. This allowed a large amount to be made with very little effort. The baked version of the crab can be served with a number of robust sauces or drizzled with melted butter and garlic.
Deviled crab in all its forms remains a popular food in Florida and surrounding areas. It can be found as an appetizer in bars and some restaurants. Common ingredients in crab recipes are usually moisteners such as mayonnaise and mustard, herbs such as parsley and cilantro, eggs, Worcestershire sauce and diced vegetables such as onion and green peppers.