May 31, 2011

Island Cooking: Local, sweet crabmeat is the star in these recipes


Lake Mattamuskeet, over on the mainland, is our source for oversized blue crabs.  The delectable lump meat sold in the local markets is cooked and picked and ready to eat, making it very easy to use -- hot or cold.  And, believe me, picking a pound of crabmeat takes time and skill, so it is sometimes worth buying it this way.

This month I was inspired for some reason by gravlax, Swedish cured salmon, and wondered if the flavors would work with crabmeat. 

Gravlax is based on mustard, brown sugar, and lots of fresh dill.  Since I have fresh dill growing now and it won’t last long in the heat, I decided to try it in a sauce by mixing it with heavy cream, mustard, and brown sugar.

Sticky Bottom Produce Company had just opened for the season, so off I went down the road to see what I could find for a seafood salad.  I returned home with cantaloupe, red and yellow peppers, and bulbous sweet green onions, and I decided on a composed salad with crab.

It was pretty, colorful and flavorful and the sauce was perfect with all the ingredients and especially complemented the delicate sweet crabmeat and melon.


1 container (1 pound) lump crab meat, preferably from Lake Mattamuskeet
1/2 ripe cantaloupe, in bite-sized cubes
1 thinly sliced green onion, the large sweet variety, also from Mattamuskeet if possible
1/3 red pepper and 1/3 yellow pepper, thinly sliced
Whole Romaine lettuce leaves

Arrange the lettuce leaves on individual dinner plates and top with crab meat and with cantaloupe cubes.  Sprinkle on the sliced onions and peppers and dribble the dressing over all.  Top with the fresh dill.


1 small container (1/2 pint) heavy cream
Equal amount Dijon mustard or to taste
Brown sugar to taste
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon or more chopped fresh dill

Whisk rather than stir to get a thicker sauce.  Just don’t go too far and turn it into mustardy whipped cream.  You want it to flow but not too easily.

The next day I blended the left-over crabmeat with the salad veggies, sliced water chestnuts, and slivered almonds.  I stirred in some of the dressing , enough to hold the mixture together, and rolled it in egg roll wrappers and fried them in peanut oil until crispy and golden brown.  The remainder of the sauce was used for dipping.

They were even better than the salad, so I made the egg rolls again for my contribution to a birthday celebration -- but with cooked shrimp from a previous dinner.  I made a few changes to the sauce recipe, omitting the brown sugar and substituting French tarragon for the dill. 

Just be sure to use French tarragon, fresh if you can, but dried will do.  If it is not labeled “French Tarragon,” don’t use it.  Tarragon or Russian tarragon are very different herbs and will ruin your sauce.

Crabcakes are practically a clichè but for good reason.  Who doesn’t love crab cakes?  Because the best crabcakes are basically nothing more than crabmeat, the creativity comes in the sauce. 

I confess that my crabcakes don’t always make it to the plate intact, but the flavor is still good, so don’t worry if yours break up.  I am sure there is a secret to it all, so please let me and the readers know your tips for success.

This time I drew inspiration from two island icons, Steve Bailey at Risky Business Seafood, where I like to purchase ready-to-cook crabcakes, and Don Oden at the Breakwater restaurant who rolls his crabcakes in crushed potato chips for a salty crunch.

The crabcakes were an impulse buy late one afternoon when I wasn’t going to have time to do much prepping.  It wasn’t hard or time-consuming to crush potato chips, heat ghee, mix a quick salsa ,and cook some rice.  To be honest, those crabcakes are better than mine anyway.

I love the very nutty taste of red rice from the Camargue in France, and I upped its nuttiness with a few toasted almond slivers that I had roasted earlier for the egg rolls.  If you don’t have red rice, by all means use your favorite rice.  I think Basmati is a good substitute, and it is more readily available than the red rice. 

Rather than a homemade salsa that takes time to chop up or the more usual seafood cocktail sauce, I took yet another shortcut and got some gentle heat from canned RO*TEL diced tomatoes and chilies.


Prepared crabcakes
Ghee (clarified butter that allows you to cook over higher heat than you normally can with butter)

(You can make your own clarified butter.  Cut unsalted butter into pats and place in a saucepan over moderate heat.  Heat until melted and then skim off the foam.  Strain the clear yellow liquid, the clarified butter, into a bowl and leave the milky residue in the bottom of the pan.  According to Julia Child ,you can use the residue for adding enrichment to soups and stews.)

Roll the crabcakes in the crushed potato chips and cook in hot ghee for a luscious buttery flavor (or use peanut oil) in a heavy deep frying pan until crisp and golden brown. 

Red Camargue rice or your rice of choice
1/2 cup slivered almonds

Prepare the rice according to package directions and toss on about 1/2 cup of almonds that have been dry roasted on the stove until tan and fragrant.


1 can RO*TEL brand diced tomatoes and green chilies, drained
1 small container (8 ounces) sour cream
2 teaspoons diced red onions
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Just mix and serve.  Adjust the proportions to your taste and the extent of heat you want.  You can even add chilies, but I like this salsa more on the mild side so it doesn’t overwhelm the crab.

There are lots of really good shortcuts in the seafood markets here that make life easier, especially for vacationers who don’t really want to spend their all-too-brief time here in a kitchen and may not be too comfortable cooking seafood anyway.

I firmly believe it is important to purchase from locally owned and operated businesses here on the islands and usually I can get anything I need.  Sometimes I want something that is too specialized for our stores to carry, so I order online.

Indian Pure Foods grass-fed, organic Ghee, clarified butter used extensively in Indian and French cooking, and Camargue red rice are two examples of items I have to shop for online. 

I encourage you to buy locally as much as you can and when visiting, please seek out the smaller family-owned grocers and markets located in the villages. 

Supplement, if you will, with the array of more exotic foodstuffs brought straight to your door by the UPS delivery person - he or she is also a local resident and we need to keep him/her employed too!

(Lynne Foster lives in Hatteras village with her husband, Ernie. Together they operate The Albatross Fleet of charter boats. They actively support the sustainable practices of the island’s commercial fishermen and the preservation of Hatteras Island’s working waterfront.  Both love to cook seafood and entertain friends, and Lynne loves to experiment with recipes for locally caught seafood.)

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