Claws and Effect

Before crawfish stole local palates, backyard cooks tossed crabs into the boiling pot. And crab cakes were not on the menu. It was stuffed crab. Times and tastes may change, but our prized blue crabs remain a jewel in the crown of Neptune in the Gulf and the brackish waters surrounding us.

Those that remain with us, that is. Much of our catch is shipped to Baltimore, also a home of delectable blue crabs. Why? Because Baltimore’s crabs are shipped to New York. But the fact remains that on any day this time of year I can pick up fresh blue crabs at seafood markets or order them to the table of neighborhood restaurants all over New Orleans. I consider them one of the most delicious foods in the world, and my favorite way to eat them is spicy boiled from a big platter in the center of the table. Just give me a nutcracker and knife and I need nothing more; except maybe an ice-cold beer.

We have our share because Louisiana is the No. 1 supplier of domestic blue crab in the nation, and 80 percent of the Gulf harvest comes from Louisiana. Even if you’re not a fisherman, you can catch your own. As the weather cools, crabbing is a fun sport for families. Crab nets can be used from piers, or strings tied with bait (chicken necks, preferably spoiled) will bring them to shore to be scooped up with small hand nets.

Jumbo lump crabmeat, though expensive, transforms fish fillets, stuffed vegetables and salads. Sold in plastic containers by the pound, it’s close to shell-free. Lump crabmeat requires careful removal of bits of shell and is good in crab cakes, dips and salads. Less expensive claw crabmeat is suitable for many dishes, such as dips and soups, but has a brownish color that may not appeal in a light-colored sauce, on top of fish or in a salad. Most importantly, all crabmeat must be handled gently, keeping pieces from breaking apart. A simple folding should replace stirring.

Blue crabs are available year-round, but peak season is summer and fall.

Crab Salad

1 large or 2 small heads Boston or butter lettuce
1 pound lump crabmeat, preferably jumbo
3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 teaspoons red wine
1/3 cup capers
½ small red onion, cut into thin rings
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Garlic powder to taste
Several hours before serving, rinse lettuce well, break into bite-size pieces, spin in a salad spinner and place in a serving bowl. Cover with wet paper towels and place in refrigerator until serving time.
Pick over crabmeat, removing any pieces of shell.
Pour olive oil into a small bowl. Whisk in vinegar until mixed well.
    Add crabmeat, capers and onions to cold lettuce, sprinkle lightly with seasonings, drizzle with oil and vinegar and toss gently, being careful not to break up crabmeat. Serve cold.
Serves 6


Marinated Crabs
6 large boiled crabs
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup olive salad
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 stalks celery, chopped
¼ cup parsley, chopped
1 Tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning
Salt and freshly grated black pepper to taste
Break the backs off crabs and discard. Clean off the lungs, eyes and everything inside the cavity except the yellow fat. Break bodies in half. Remove small legs and cartilage next to the lump and discard. Remove claws and crack small and large segments with nutcracker, leaving shell on.
Mix all other ingredients together in a large bowl. Add crabs and stir gently, coating crabs in mixture. Cover refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Stir once or twice while marinating.
Serves 6 as appetizer or 2 as entrée

Crab Cakes

1 pound lump crabmeat, preferably jumbo
2 eggs
Juice of 1 lemon
2 Tablespoons good quality mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon Creole seasoning
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs, divided
4 Tablespoons vegetable oil
Pick over crabmeat, discarding any shell.
In a medium bowl, beat eggs then mix in lemon juice, mayonnaise, parsley, seasonings and ¼-cup of the breadcrumbs. Add crabmeat, tossing gently and being careful not to break up crabmeat. Divide into 6 round balls and gently flatten with a fork. Sprinkle with remaining breadcrumbs, turning to lightly coat each crab cake.
Heat oil in a medium skillet and brown crab cakes over medium-low to medium heat, turning and cooking until medium brown. Drain on paper towels and serve.
Serves 3 to 6




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