The last couple of days here on the Jersey Shore, the weather was 75° F with a cloudless sky and bright sunshine and we started to crave light summery foods. We made this cocktail to celebrate the return of warm weather. It was our afternoon snack since we had ramekin eggs for breakfast around 11 am. It was a lazy Sunday. Dinner was another celebration of warm weather with Thai mussels but that’s for another post.
I first ran into this type of crab cocktail in Pittsburgh, PA. I know there aren’t any crabs in Pittsburgh, other than in a can, but Crab Hoelzel is a local favorite. My understanding is that Chef Hoelzel created this dish while he was chef of the Duquesne Club in Pittsburgh. This is my version of his dish. The Pittsburgh version has a ton of cracked black pepper, which makes the dish rather spicy and overpowers the natural delicate sweet flavor of the crab. I added mustard, a very traditional accompaniment to crab, to emulsify the vinaigrette and bring all of the flavors together. Sherry vinegar is used along with dry tarragon instead of the Pittsburgh version which uses tarragon vinegar. You may substitute any other vinegar except for balsamic vinegar which is too sweet and too dark for the crab meat.Visit the vinegar aisle of your local supermarket; you’ll be amazed at what’s available. If jumbo lump is not available or too expensive, look for lump crab meat but stay away from backfin because it’s too small and has too much cartilage.
We are presenting this dish as an appetizer but it is versatile and can be used as an hors d’oeuvre served on crostini (little toast) or even whole pieces of Belgian endive. On top of a salad of mesclun greens or baby greens, this makes an excellent lunch or light dinner. We topped the cocktail with tobico, which is a Japanese flying fish roe. It adds beautiful color, not much flavor, but a little bit of crunch. Of course, it’s optional. Any fish roe can be used. Be creative. Experiment with this recipe and wow your family and friends.
- 16oz. jumbo lump crab meat
- 1 garlic clove grated on a micro-plane
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup sherry vinegar or any other vinegar except balsamic
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ tsp dry tarragon leaves
- radicchio, endive, fresh chives for garnish
Grate the garlic on a micro-plane. (If you don’t have a micro-plane, mash the garlic with the side of your knife, add salt, and continue to mash until it makes a paste.) Place the garlic, salt, ground pepper, vinegar, and mustard into the immersion blender cylinder or into a regular blender. Pulse to combine. While blending, drizzle in the olive oil to form an emulsion. Stir in the tarragon with a spoon. This is your vinaigrette. It will keep for a week in the refrigerator.
*Note: Make the vinaigrette an hour or two before serving to marry the flavors, although it can be done on the fly if necessary.
Assembling the cocktail:
Gently separate the lumps of crab meat into a mixing bowl. Slice the chives very thin, about a tablespoon. Sprinkle the chives onto the crab. Pour ¼ cup of vinaigrette onto the crab and gently toss with a spoon being careful not to break up the lumps. Take the core out of the radicchio to make it easier to separate the leaves. Pull off one leaf per person, place it into your serving vessel. Gently spoon the crab cocktail into the radicchio leaf. Garnish with a piece of endive and some long pieces of chive. Add tobico as a garnish if you wish.