It’s every chef’s favorite turn of phrase when presenting a dish: “Here we have our interpretation of a [insert familiar food item you remember eating as a kid] but deconstructed.” Culinary deja vu may cause a few eyes on occasion, but hear us out. Crab rangoon dip is the perfect candidate for such rhetoric. Take these little pockets filled with Americanized Chinese flavor and turn them into a sharing spread of crabmeat cream cheese and fried wonton chips.
The rangoon crab has seen a resurgence on social media and on restaurant menus across the country. Inspired by San Diego tiki the islander, which opened in August, you can order a sweet and spicy variant in pūpū. In Las Vegas, at the reopened Tao Beach Dayclub, enjoy a swimming pool crab rangoon dip topped with caviar. Or to Lucky Buns opening soon at The Wharf in southwest DC, pair the dip with a late-night burger. You can even find it in the Aldi supermarket chain, which has started selling prefabricated lots in 2020.
“We were trying to come up with fun and kitsch ideas for Superbowl Sunday snacks, so I suggested we do the dip form,” says Natalie Freihon, owner of New York City’s Nat is on the bank. “It was such a hit and everyone loved it so much we kept it on the menu.” The salty snack has even made its way to happy hour at Nat is on Bleeckera recently opened partner restaurant.
Crab rangoon is a mid-century American classic. It was probably invented by Victor Bergeron, founder of the Trader Vic chain of tiki bars that sprung up in the 1940s, after World War II veterans became obsessed with imaginary visions of Polynesia. Despite being named after the largest city in Myanmar (now called Yangon), the crunchy treat has little to do with Asian culture. (One of its main ingredients, cream cheese, was invented in New York.)
But it became a staple of American Chinese takeout, eventually ending up in TikTok mukbangs. The #CrabRangoon hashtag has over 408 million views on the app. User Gabby Eniclerico, also known as @slothgirl420, has contributed to the revival, sparking cravings every time she films herself dipping into the sweet chili sauce and taking an ASMR-friendly bite. The internet quickly became obsessed. Now we see goofy spinoffs, like the crab rangoon pizza at The Rise and Shine of Molly in New Orleans.
“When I was younger and we went to Chinese-American restaurants in Los Angeles with my family, I always liked crab rangoon because it was such a fun thing for a kid to eat. It’s one of those nostalgic things that has so many memories tied to it,” Freihon says. “I think that’s happened with a lot of things since COVID. People go back to comforting things that make them feel good.
The dip format is one of the many ways you can get rid of crab rangoon at home. Not only is it easier to put together, but it’s perfect for sharing when you have a few friends over. You want it to hit all the notes – creamy, savory and umami – and can follow Nat’s on Bank’s lead by adding tamari. Adding a ton of savory flavors will keep the cream cheese from getting too overpowering. “It’s not a cream cheese dip per se,” Freihon says, so you still want it to taste a bit like the sea.
While the restaurant uses fresh, sweet crab, Freihon says you can also go the imitation route. “It’s pretty solid in terms of texture, so you could still get some nice big chunks of crabmeat in there,” she says. “I don’t think it will harm the dish in any way.”
Consistency is also very important. “You don’t want it to be too runny, because then it tastes a bit creepy,” Freihon jokes. “So it has to be able to stand up to a nice solid fry that you serve it with, and the wonton chips are perfect.” Simply cut wonton wrappers into strips and fry them. But if you can’t get your hands on it, Freihon suggests opting for soy rice crackers or tortilla chips.
For something a little more warm and cozy, you can even add grated cheese on top and put it in the grill. Crab rangoon dip defies all the rules – on the one hand, the Italian doctrine that cheese and seafood should never be mixed – so don’t be afraid to treat yourself and have a bowl for you alone.
Nat’s on Bank Crab Rangoon Dip
- 3 ½ cups cream cheese
- 6.4 ounces of jumbo crabmeat
- Little ½ ounce Worcester sauce
- 2 ¼ tablespoons fish sauce
- ¾ teaspoon ground ginger
- 2 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ tbsp tamari
- 1 ½ tablespoon pickled chili peppers
- ⅓ cup Pepper Jack cheese
- ⅓ cup brunoise carrots
- 2 ½ cups green onions
1. Leave cream cheese at room temperature until soft.
2. Blend the pickled peppers in a food processor. Slice the green onions, green and white parts, into ½ inch pieces.
3. Peel the carrots and cut them into bruniose (julienne, then cut them into small cubes).
4. Combine all ingredients in the food processor.