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Creamy Seafood Mac and Cheese

This Creamy Baked Seafood Mac and Cheese recipe is made with crab, shrimp, and macaroni pasta. This is the perfect, simple cheesy casserole to add to any spread. Add Old Bay Seasoning and Cajun spices for an additional kick in flavor!

a spoonful of seafood crab and shrimp mac and cheese

When do you add seafood to mac and cheese? Whenever you feel like it! Mac and cheese is my specialty! I took my classic recipe and added crab and shrimp, along with a few variations to make it even creamier and more spice to give it a kick!

heavy cream, milk, butter, spices, flour, and cream cheese in separate bowls

What Type of Cheese to Use

You can use whatever you like. Mix and match whatever you like and it’s likely to be a hit. You will definitely want cheddar cheese, I typically use sharp. I also used Parmesan Reggiano and mozzarella (because it will give an intense cheese pull).

Here are more examples of cheese you can use:

  • White Cheddar
  • Fontina (super soft cheese)
  • Gouda
  • Romano
  • Muenster

Always purchase your cheese in block form and shred or grate it yourself. You can also use a food processor. Pre-shredded cheese has preservatives and potato starch to keep it from going bad quickly. These additives don’t melt nicely and the dish won’t be as creamy. Grate your own cheese. It makes a huge difference.

For cheddar cheese, you have options, mild, medium, sharp, extra sharp, etc. Aging is the only difference between mild and sharp cheddars. The longer cheese is aged naturally, the sharper and more pronounced the cheddar flavor becomes. Mild Cheddar cheese is generally aged for 2 to 3 months, whereas an extra sharp might be aged for as long as a year.

Mild cheddar has a creamy, subtle taste.
Medium cheddar has a little more flavor in comparison to mild, but it lacks the distinct bite found in sharp cheddar.
Sharp cheddar has a distinct and prominent flavor.
Extra sharp cheddar has a very pronounced and sharp taste. (I typically don’t cook with it and use it for wine pairings and Charcuterie Cheese Boards.)


Taking all of this into account, sharp is typically my go-to for mac and cheese.

shredded cheddar cheese, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheese in glass bowls

What Type of Seafood to Use

I love to use shrimp and jumbo lump crab in this recipe. You can also use scallops, lobster, mussels, pretty much whatever you like.

What Type of Shrimp to Use

Shrimp can be found at the grocery store in a few different ways. There is raw, pre-cooked, raw and frozen, deveined, tails on, tails off, etc.

I never use pre-cooked shrimp. There is an obvious difference in taste due to the lack of quality. The shrimp is cooked and then frozen and you have to cook it/warm it up again. This usually overcooks the shrimp. Raw shrimp only takes minutes to make, just buy it raw.

Always look for deveined, that’s my preference. The black vein that runs along the back of the shrimp is the digestive intestinal tract. Is this shrimp poop, yes.

You can buy it with the vein and remove it using a sharp paring knife to make a slit along the back and lift out the vein with the tip of the knife.

Buy large shrimp. Baby shrimp are meant to go in things like soups.

dry pasta, raw shrimp, crab, and spices in separate bowls

Can You Use Frozen Shrimp? How to Thaw

You should thaw it first. You can thaw frozen shrimp in a bowl of cold water for 20 minutes.

Do You Keep the Tails on the Shrimp?

This is completely up to you and is a matter of preference. Often the tails are left on for presentation purposes only. The shrimp simply looks nicer and will have a nice curve to it when the tails are left on.

Leaving the tail on is often inconvenient when it comes to devouring the meal! It’s your call.

What Type of Crab to Use

I use lump crab meat. You can find it in the refrigerated meat section of the grocery store. Lots of people use imitation crab meat, sometimes called krab meat. You can use that if you wish, it’s also sometimes easier to find.

Imitation crab is processed fish meat. It is seafood and comes from surimi that has been deboned and minced into paste. It does not contain crab. Crab extract is sometimes added for flavor.

Use whichever you wish. You can read more about What Imitation Crab Is here.

jumbo lump crab in a can for crab rangoon dip

How to Cook the Seafood

My favorite way to prepare it, is to saute it in a pan for a few minutes with melted butter and Old Bay Seasoning. Old Bay is a staple that my family has used for years because it’s perfect for shellfish like crab and lobster, but you can use whatever seasoning you like.

a collage of 4 photos showing melted butter and raw shrimp cooked in a skillet

What Type of Pasta to Use

Elbow macaroni is typically used. I also typically use cellentani. It has a corkscrew shape and a ridged surface which works great in a dish like this.

How to Make the Cheese Sauce

One of the most important parts of this dish is the cheese sauce. A great cheese sauce starts with a roux. A roux is a combination of butter and flour. It’s used to thicken the sauce and to help bind the dish.

From there you will add milk and heavy whipping cream, along with cheese. You will also need to season it with onion powder, salt, and pepper. This is important because the cheese sauce is a source of flavor for the dish.

collage of 4 photos with butter and flour in a skillet and the mac and cheese cream sauce
mac and cheese cream sauce in a skillet

How to Make Seafood Mac and Cheese

Detailed measurements and full instructions can be found in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.

  1. Cook the pasta in a large pot in accordance with the instructions on the package.
  2. Heat a skillet or saucepan add in butter, shrimp, and Old Bay Seasoning.
  3. Cook for 3-4 minutes until cooked through. Fold in the crab.
  4. Heat a sauce pan on medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of butter and allow it to melt.
  5. Once melted, add flour and whisk.
  6. Add milk and heavy whipping cream and stir.
  7. Add shredded cheese and stir until the cheese is melted.
  8. Add onion powder, salt, and pepper to taste.
  9. Return the pasta to the large pot. Drizzle the liquid mixture over the pasta and stir until fully combined. Add in the cooked seafood and the butter sauce the lobster was cooked in.
  10. Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with cooking spray.
  11. Begin to layer in the pasta. Start with the pasta and seafood, then add a layer of all of the shredded cheese.
  12. Bake.
cooked pasta in a Dutch oven with mac and cheese cream sauce

What Type of Baking Dish to Use

I often use a 9×13 rectangular dish. Sometimes I will opt for an 8×8 dish. With an 8×8 dish, you will really pile in the ingredients and as it bakes, the sides will bubble and ooze over. This provides a dramatic effect (that looks great), but isn’t necessary. I bake the dish on a sheet pan to prevent liquid from oozing into the oven.

For baking dishes, I often prefer ceramic to glass. A ceramic dish will regulate heat better. When I use glass, the top of the mac and cheese, typically dries out quickly.

You can also bake the dish in cast iron.

cooked pasta in a Dutch oven with mac and cheese cream sauce, crab, and shrimp

Substitutions and Additional Add-In Ideas

  • Bacon
  • Chicken
  • Lobster
  • Caramelized Onions

Can You Make it Ahead

If you’re making this for a crowd, I wouldn’t make it ahead the night before. This is a dish that’s best served fresh while the cheese is still soft and gooey. After making it, I leave it in the oven on warm and covered in foil. You can, because the dish does reheat. It’s just served best when fresh.

I also wouldn’t prep it in advance to cook later. This will ruin the texture of the cheese. When cheese hits the air it starts to stiffen.

un baked mac and cheese topped with shredded cheese in a baking dish

How to Store It

You can store leftovers in the fridge, tightly covered for 3-4 days.

How to Reheat it

The best way to reheat it is in the air fryer on 350 degrees for 4-5 minutes or until warm. You can also use the oven at the same temperature. Heat until warm. You can use the microwave, but it doesn’t result in the best texture in my opinion.

seafood shrimp and crab mac and cheese in a blue baking dish

Freezer Tips

I enjoy freezing my leftovers and I reheat them in the air fryer (after defrosting in the fridge overnight first). When you reheat frozen dishes with dairy, there’s almost always some separation. If this bothers you, you may not enjoy freezing this recipe.

What to Serve and Pair With This Dish

Southern Smothered Chicken
Baked Crab Legs
Southern Style Green Beans

Smothered Turkey Wings
Southern Baked Ham With Pineapple
Southern Mustard Greens

Southern Candied Sweet Potatoes
Okra and Tomatoes
Southern Potato Salad
Southern Sweet Potato Casserole
Stuffed Turkey Legs

seafood shrimp and crab mac and cheese in a blue baking dish

More Mac and Cheese and Pasta Recipes

Southern Soul Food Baked Mac and Cheese
Lobster Mac and Cheese
Bacon Gouda Mac and Cheese
Slow Cooker Chili Mac and Cheese

Seafood Stuffed Pasta Shells

Creamy Baked Seafood Mac and Cheese

This Creamy Baked Seafood Mac and Cheese recipe is made with crab, shrimp, and macaroni pasta. This is the perfect, simple cheesy casserole to add to any spread. Add Old Bay Seasoning and Cajun spices for an additional kick in flavor!
Save this recipe here.
Course dinner, lunch
Cuisine American
Keyword crab mac and cheese, seafood mac and cheese, shrimp mac and cheese
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings 10 servings
Calories 521kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni or cellentani pasta
  • 5 tablespoons butter Divided 4 tablespoons for the cheese sauce and 1 tablespoon to cook with the seafood
  • 8 oz lump crab meat
  • 1 pound raw shrimp Peeled and deveined, sliced into 1 inch chunks.
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning You can substitute whatever you like.
  • 1 teaspoon Cajun Seasoning Optional for additional flavor.
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2-3 cups milk I often use 2 cups. Use your judgment. Start with 2 and add more if needed (if the pasta appears too dry).
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese I used sharp.
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded parmigiano reggiano cheese
  • 4 ounces cream cheese Optional for really creamy mac
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • cooking spray

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Pasta

  • Cook the pasta in a large pot in accordance with the instructions on the package.
  • Drain the macaroni and rinse with cold water. Set aside.

Sauteed Seafood

  • Heat a skillet or saucepan on medium-high heat. Add in 1 tablespoon of butter. When melted, add in the shrimp and Old Bay seasoning and optional Cajun seasoning.
  • Cook for 3-4 minutes on both sides until cooked through. Add in the crab and stir. Remove from the heat and set aside. Keep the seafood in the butter sauce.

Cheese Sauce

  • Heat a skillet or saucepan on medium heat. Add 4 tablespoons of butter and allow it to melt.
  • Once melted, add the flour and whisk. Add the flour in stages to prevent clumping.
  • This will create a roux. Continue to whisk until the four is fully combined.
  • Add the milk and heavy whipping cream and stir.
  • Add half of the shredded cheese and the 4 ounces of cream cheese stir until the cheese is melted. You don't have to wait for the all of the cream cheese to melt. It will melt while the dish bakes.
  • Add the onion powder, salt, and pepper to taste. Taste repeatedly and adjust seasonings as needed. This step is important because this sauce is what the mac and cheese will taste like.
  • Return the pasta to the large pot. Drizzle the cheese sauce over the pasta and stir until fully combined.
  • Add in the cooked seafood and the butter sauce the seafood was cooked in. Stir. Taste again. Add additional spices, salt, and pepper if needed.

Mac and Cheese

  • Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with cooking spray.
  • Begin to layer in the pasta. Start with the pasta and seafood, then add a layer of all of the shredded cheese.
  • Add another layer of pasta, and then another layer of cheese. If your dish is piled high (mine usually is), place it on a sheet pan while baking. This will catch any potential drippings.
  • Bake for 25-45 minutes until the cheese has melted and is bubbly. I like for the crust on top to turn a deep golden brown, which takes more time. Use your judgment based on what works for you.
  • Cool before serving.

Video

Notes

  • You can substitute any cheese you like in this recipe.
  • Always purchase your cheese in block form and shred or grate it yourself. You can also use a food processor. Pre-shredded cheese has preservatives and potato starch to keep it from going bad quickly. These additives don’t melt nicely and the dish won’t be as creamy. Grate your own cheese. It makes a huge difference.
  • Feel free to add more cheese as you deem necessary. To make this a really creamy and cheesy dish, I often add 1 to 1 1/2 cups of additional shredded cheddar. I typically add this additional cheese to the cheese sauce to make it really thick.
  • If you’re using baby shrimp, you probably don’t need to slice them into chunks.
  • You can whatever milk you choose in the recipe. 
  • I often use a 9×13 rectangular dish. Sometimes I will opt for an 8×8 dish, as used in the photos here. With an 8×8 dish, you will really pile in the ingredients and as it bakes, the sides will bubble and ooze over. This provides a dramatic effect (that looks great), but isn’t necessary. I bake the dish on a sheet pan to prevent liquid from oozing into the oven.
  • For baking dishes, I often prefer ceramic to glass. A ceramic dish will regulate heat better. When I use glass, the top of the mac and cheese, typically dries out quickly.
  • You can also use cast-iron.
  • If you’re making this for a crowd, I wouldn’t make it ahead. This is a dish that’s best served fresh while the cheese is still soft and gooey. After making it, I leave it in the oven on warm and covered in foil.
  • I also wouldn’t prep it in advance. This will ruin the texture of the cheese.
Recipe Tools Used in this RecipeAs an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Nutrition (displayed with net carbs)

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 521kcal | Carbohydrates: 37g | Protein: 23g | Fat: 32g
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