What a delectable delight to be asked by Whole Foods Market Northern California to share my most fond crab memories for their holiday newsletter. This recipe is inspired by a holiday love affair with crab–what better way to nourish and delight your loved ones at this time of year! Wishing you and your family a nutty sweet season filled with an abundance of crab.
Creamy, luscious, oh-so-exciting crab is in season! To be exact, since I live in the Bay Area, Dungeness crab season officially kicks off each year on the second Tuesday of November—barring crab conditions and price negotiations.
Where I grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, we celebrate blue crabs, which are local to our barrier islands. As a kid, I would spend hours and hours patiently waiting for my crab trap to lure in enough blue crabs that I could proudly bring them to my mom to receive an abundance of praise. Being a kid, I always forgot this also meant a big cry after I realized she was going to cook them for her famous blue crab dip and the cocktail party that would follow.
Crab for me signifies a special tasty tradition that’s anchored around this time of year—holiday season. When you grow up next to the water, you have a respect for tides and seasons. You only eat oysters on the East Coast when you are in an “R” month (basically colder months), and you only eat crabs when they are in season. It’s just the way it’s done.
So as a chef, when I think of my favorite holiday preparation for crab, I no longer fall upon those Charleston traditions of rich and creamy She Crab Soup which require blue she crabs, I go for simple preparations that highlight where I live today—and take a California spin on honoring the Dungeness crab, which is WAY more exciting and plentiful compared to those blue crabs of my childhood.
I celebrate Dungeness crab by taking a playful approach with their sweet and slightly nutty flavor and combining it with a few savory and tangy components like fall apple and smoked bacon, a wee bit of mayonnaise and fresh herbs, and I tuck it inside tender endive boats that are irresistible to even the most discerning kid’s palette. I mean, who doesn’t love a small “boat” brimming with creamy crab?
Here are three more of my crab centered easy holiday prep tips:
1) To save time:
- Buy already picked crab from your local Whole Foods Market or local fisherman. These professionals can save you time, energy and truly make your holiday entertaining a breeze by answering all your questions and even picking your crab for you.
- My chef tip to ensure no shells are in your picked crab meat:
Spread the picked crab onto a baking tray, turn your oven to 400F, and once it’s come to temperature, pop that tray in the oven for just 1 minute. The heat will turn any remaining shells that were overlooked bright white and you’ll be able to spot them quickly to remove them. In fact, this is a wonderful task to give your kids!
2) If you decide to cook whole crab yourself:
- Don’t overcook it! A general rule of thumb is to cook Dungeness crabs between 12-20 minutes—depending on their size. Your timer starts after you’ve placed them into the boiling water and covered the pot. And you’ll know your crab is over or under cooked by the crab shell and meat. When crab’s undercooked, it’ll be tough to remove the shells. When it’s overcooked, the meat will feel dry.
3) Don’t leave any meat behind!
- We all think we have the best way to pick crab, but I always love learning from others on their tips to make sure to leave no sweet crab meat behind. Fine Cooking is a source I always trust, and their quick tutorial is one I’d invest time in the next time you’re about to dive into cracking your crabs.
- dungeness crab, cooked and shelled, ½ lb
- apple smoked bacon, 2 slices
- mayonnaise, 6 TBS
- lemon, 1
- worchestershire sauce, 2 tsp
- fresh tarragon, approximately 2 TBS
- fresh chives, approximately 2 TBS
- salt, ¼ tsp
- jalapeno, 1 small
- green apple, ½
- endive, 3-4
- Take 5 minutes to get out all your ingredients, measuring and cooking equipment needed, and place them on a cookie sheet within easy reach.
- Wash all produce.
- Cook bacon until crispy. Let cool and then crumble with your fingers. Set aside.
- Pick through crab with your fingers, looking for any shells that may have been overlooked.
- Finely cut chives and tarragon. Save some chives to the side to garnish the endive boats.
- Cut jalapeno into small dice, avoiding the seeds. Note: the easiest way to cut a jalapeno is to cut around all four sides of the stem, avoiding the seeds.
- Make the dressing for the crab stuffing by combining mayonnaise, the juice and zest of the lemon, thinly cut chives and tarragon, worchestershire sauce, and salt.
- Cut half the apple into small dice and add to the dressing, to keep it from browning.
- Pull endive leaves apart. These will be your boats. One tip: cut a tiny little piece off the bottom of each lettuce cup to help it stay upright when you fill it!
- Combine the crab with the dressing and mix well. Taste for seasoning. Check to see if you want more herbs or more salt.
- Stuff endive leaves with a heaping scoop of the crab stuffing. Garnish each endive boat with a sprinkle of crumbled bacon and chives.
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