Ma never made crabs at home. No seafood particularly amused her as much as fish did. There are some rather crazy family tales on her love for fish — which I’ll keep for another day, another post. Also, during childhood, I don’t remember if we ever ordered a crab while eating out. One, because our family wasn’t quite fond of them, and probably something else on the menu always intrigued us more. Two, because any crawling creature, that even remotely resembled that 8 legged creepy arthropod threateningly hanging down from the ceilings on it’s secreted thread would dissuade me from a distance. For the most early part of my life, arachnids, myriapods, crustaceans…all topped my lists of aversions. To me, they were more capable of nerve-racking than all evil-spirits from the most appalling horror movies, combined.
My first proper tryst with crab, a rather giant ocean king crab, was in Bangalore, many many years ago. S and I were fresh out of college, into our new first jobs, and were learning how best to survive and sustain an entire month on a meager monthly pay check…well, and we were learning it all the hard way. For we two creatures, it used to be first fifteen days of the great amazon rain forest, providing us with resources in surplus, food in abundance, nature’s best in everything. Then the next fifteen days, our environment would drastically manifest the mighty Sahara desert…extreme dry weather, scanty resources, drought conditions and challenging survival rates. Given whichever situation, cooking every evening wasn’t an option.
It was one of those evenings after a very long day at work. And though we were technically into the drought-laden “last fifteen days of the month” slot, I knew I had to eat out and grab as much sleep before another grilling day. After mutually agreeing to not revisit the nearby middle-eastern restaurant we’d been the other day, and not being in a mood for Chinese that night, S and I zeroed on this restaurant that specialized in coastal sea foods. Foremost, we had fish and shrimps on our minds. After we were seated, our enthusiastic waiter insisted that we try one of their bestselling specialties, the butter garlic crab. When we reluctantly agreed, he boldly picks up this gigantic king crab out from a huge water tank, which, I thought (up till that point), was just an entertaining crab aquarium. He tells us that customarily the guests were to choose live crabs for their own dinners in the restaurant. Seriously?
I stared jaw dropped, at the crab angrily waving it’s claws at me. Who was going to be whose dinner, after all? Eek! This crab was huge, larger than what I had ever seen on sea shores or fish markets. Twas easily a little more than 2 feet leg span. S was rather pleased at the giant crustacean sight, and convinced me that crab meat was indeed too delicious and enlightened me on what I was missing in life by not trying them. He got me reluctantly nod at the waiter for a go-ahead-cook-that-crab-for-me signal. The butter garlic crab looked more aesthetic on my dinner plate. The legs and claws arranged with some greens, grilled veggies, rice on the side and a pretty stainless steel seafood cracker to crack and pick my way through a delicious crab meal. It was all too delicious. The crab meat was flaky, juicy, butter and tender. The dreamy food did not remind me of the crawling creature at all. Not for a second. But then oh boy, it cracked my pocket too. I remember us paying INR 800 plus taxes for those buttery garlicky crab legs and claws!! I am talking of a time more than a dozen years back. And we couldn’t just only eat crab legs for dinner. No kidding! I did get a lil crabby after eating the crab. My staring eyes almost bore two holes straight into our bill. Nonetheless, it kicked start my love for crab meat. It’s indeed one of the most succulent meats of all. For most, I am glad that we could pay the bill that evening, without having to do the dishes at the restaurant…Plus pulling through the rest of the month-end days. Well, literally…phew! 🙂
After moving to the US, I found crab salads and dip sold everywhere around. I liked them too. But mostly, found the taste a little different though. Only later to realize, that the key ingredient, the white meat with an pink-to-red outer color in all those dishes were actually imitation crab meat. Key constituent in an imitation crab meat is cured surimi (kamaboko) or processed seafood and fish, particularly the Alaskan Pollock and Cod, plus food colors for the pinkish tinge. And why did this artificial crab meat find such extensive use in foods? Because it did mimic the taste and meat texture to some extent, and they were such cheap substitutes of the otherwise “too heavy on the pocket” real crab meat (I knew that too well by now).
After finding out the truth, I decided to never buy the cheap meat any more. I worked with store bought pasteurized ready to use Blue crab lump meat, and used a few readily available ingredients/seasoning from my kitchen pantry. Mixed them well enough into a deliciously divine crab meat dip and spread. Since blue crabs are most readily available and are popular on the East Coast here, I use them in most of my crab recipes. Feel free to use your favorite crab meat here. Also, if you can’t get pasteurized lump meat, boil/blanch the crab meat just till done for this recipe.
This versatile dip and spread is extremely forgiving and has bursts of delicious flavors from crab meat (of course), and the spices, seasoning, herbs used. It’s a great cold no-cook condiment and is an easy “slather-me-on-a-bread-and-eat” for those busy or lazy days. I also love dumping some on my avocado halves, tomato shells, lettuce leaves or on my fresh salads. They’re a very flavorful source of protein. It tastes much better than what you would buy off the shelves in the market. It makes an awesome pool-side or a potluck snack too. Serve it on your next party or gift a small jar full to a friend and family — they’ll thank you for ever. Make some to believe!
Yields about 20 oz or 500 gms of the dip/spread
- 8 oz or 250 gm handpicked pasteurized lump blue crab meat (or use any ready-to-use crab meat. Pick a container from the seafood section of the grocery store, or boil/blanch some crab meat for use)
- 8 oz (1 brick) or 225 gm cream cheese, brought to room temperature
- 1 tsp red chilly flakes
- 1 tsp hot sriracha or tobasco sauce
- 5 tsp ground garlic*
- 5 tsp ground onion*
- Half of 1 Red or green bell pepper (capsicum), finely chopped
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard or English Mustard sauce
- 1 tbsp fresh Dill leaves or cilantro, shredded
- 4 tbsp Greek yogurt
- 1 generous heaped tbsp fresh chives, shredded
- 5 tbsp light olive oil
- 1 tsp fresh ground pepper
- Salt to taste
- Fresh lemon juice, to taste
*You may use garlic and onion paste instead. However, sauté them along with the bell peppers before adding them to the dip mix.
- Heat the oil and sauté chopped bell peppers for 1 to 2 minutes. Take off from stove top.
- In a mixing bowl, add all remaining ingredients, except lemon juice. Add the roasted bell peppers.
- Fold and mix them well together using a fork. Add a dash of lemon juice. Taste test and serve alongside these delicious Crab Cakes, or serve them with crackers, chips, salad, sliced avocados, lettuce leaves or stuff some in tomatoes and eat!
Notes: For reduced heat and spice levels, use less amounts of chili flakes, ground pepper, hot sauce and mustard sauce. Also, use red bell pepper in place of green to reduce pungency. You could also add the traditional Old Bay Seasoning (or your own favorite spices) for added flavors. You may use tender greens of the spring onion as a substitute for chives. You can also use cilantro in place of dill. I have used Kasundi (popular Bengali mustard sauce) in this dip and found it tasting as great!
Storage: Store the crab dip left over in an air tight container and refrigerate. Tastes best if consumed in 2 to 3 days.