This is the season
styled by, photographed by eugenia uhl
The only redeeming grace for August in New Orleans is that it falls at the peak of peak season for blue crabs, the dead-on center of the May to November season.
We used to go out crabbing with the kids until I decided that nothing could be enough fun to withstand the heat and humidity. Especially when so many neighborhood restaurants serve crabs up deliciously seasoned, and a half dozen makes a bargain dinner. I’m lucky enough to live near a great seafood store, so sometimes I pick them up already boiled and bring them home for dinner. On occasion, I choose a pound of succulent lump crabmeat for a summer salad or creamy casserole.
We used to boil them in the backyard before crawfish found their way to New Orleans, but soon learned that October or November makes a cooler setting.
On a trip to Baltimore, I learned that the fewer ingredients, the better, when it comes to making crab dishes. In Maryland, another blue-crab capitol, they make their crab cakes with lump crab meat and very little else. Why? Because the taste of crabmeat is delicate and you don’t want to overpower it. The same goes when making a crab salad, which is best when the perfect taste of crab is the dominant force.
Creole restaurants traditionally offered Crab Louis, a dressed up version that might add boiled eggs and other ingredients including a richer dressing. If desired, sliced eggs and avocado partner well with the salad, making it even more substantial as an entrée.
A chilled or room-temperature meal peaks my taste in summer, especially when there’s no heat in the kitchen and little clean-up.A summer succotash with August produce such as corn, sweet peppers and lima beans accompanies a crab salad with balance and color. For lagniappe, you have a healthful and low-calorie meal.
I’m all about seasons, not just football and Carnival, but, especially when it comes to food. Yeah, I hate heat and humidity, but if I’m stuck here in August, at least I can look forward to some of my favorite foods.
ON THE SIDE
Lemon Ice Chaser
Follow a cool summer dinner with a thirst-quenching Lemon Ice. Mix 4 cups water and 2 cups sugar in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Cool. Add 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind and 1 cup lemon juice, and freeze in an ice cream freezer according to manufacturer’s directions. Serves 4-6.
Blue Crab Salad with Summer Succotash
1 pound lump crabmeat, jumbo preferred
¼ cup chopped celery
¼ cup chopped Vidalia onions
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon small capers, optional
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon good-quality or homemade mayonnaise
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
Salt, freshly ground black pepper and Creole seasoning to taste
Boston or butter lettuce leaves
3 ears fresh corn
1 ½ cups lima or butter beans, preferably fresh, or 1 12-ounce package frozen
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
A handful of fresh basil leaves, julienned
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Pick over crabmeat and remove any shells. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, mix celery, onions, parsley, garlic and capers, if using. In a small bowl, mix lemon juice, mayonnaise, oil, seasonings and Tabasco. Add to vegetables and mix. Add crabmeat and toss gently, being careful not to break up crabmeat. Taste and adjust seasonings. Refrigerate until time to serve.
3. Cut whole kernels from corn cobs, holding corn in a large bowl and using a sharp knife.
4. Bring 1 cup of water to boil in a medium pot, add lima or butter beans, reduce heat and simmer until tender. Remove beans with a slotted spoon to a small bowl and place corn into the same water. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 1 to 2 minutes. Strain and place in the large bowl. Add beans and remaining ingredients. Mix and allow the mixture to come to room temperature.
5. Serve chilled crab salad on leaves of lettuce and summer succotash cold or at room temperature on the side. Serves 4 to 6.
Note: Boiled eggs, sliced, and avocado wedges can be added to dress up the salad, if desired.