As spring moves into summer, some of our favorite ingredients start to fade away and we try to enjoy them before they are gone. One of these seasonal ingredients is Dungeness crab. The Dungeness is a medium-sized crab (about the size of a large salad plate) with a red shell and sweet, flaky flesh. Dungeness is very common in the pacific states and is even the “state crustacean” in Oregon (somehow I don’t think Nebraska has a state crustacean). Dungeness crab is considered a “sustainable” delicacy and there is plenty to go around while it’s in season. The Dungeness season lasts while the North Pacific ocean is very cold, from about November to June. And as we are in May, our time with the Dungeness this year is running short. We wanted to be sure to make at least one more good dish with the Dungeness crab.
Happily, Carolyn recently got a copy of Suzanne Goin’s “Sunday Suppers at Lucques” cookbook and it has this great recipe for a Dungeness crab salad. In case you are curious, Suzanne Goin is a James Beard award-winning chef from Los Angeles and Lucques is her flagship restaurant (she is part of four). The cookbook is from 2005, but we just found it and are very pleased with the recipes. As Goin worked under Alice Waters (and a bunch of other serious chefs) early in her career, we see some similarities in their recipes, particularly with salads and vegetables. As we are big fans of Alice Waters’ vegetable recipes, this is a good thing. Many of the Lucques recipes seem like heartier updates to Chez Panisse classics. This is a compliment, trust us.
As for the salad, the recipe combines crabmeat in a flavorful citrus and jalapeño vinaigrette with earthy roasted beets, sweet and creamy avocados and crisp, slightly bitter watercress. A drizzle of crème fraîche and cilantro (if you like cilantro) add brightness to the dish. The salad is very tasty and has that “restaurant quality” of tasting better than the sum of its parts. There are a bunch of good flavors and textures in this dish. Oh, and it’s a pretty healthy dish, too.
As for making the salad, it is a bit of work, but well worth it. Most of the work is vegetable prep, but it will take a few minutes and a sharp knife. The only other issue is roasting the beets, which takes some time, but is as easy as it gets. And one last note, we do NOT suggest you to cook and pick your own crab for this recipe. You certainly could, but at that point just eat the crab with lemon and melted butter. We suggest buying pre-picked crabmeat from your fish monger, it is expensive, but 3/4 of a pound will easily serve four or even six, so it is money well-spent (and time saved). And if you cannot get Dungeness crabmeat, stone, blue or peekytoe crabmeat are good substitutes.
You start with a few bunches of beets (4 large, 6 medium). Clean the beets, cut off the tops, rub with oil and salt, place in a pan with a touch of water and cover with foil. Roast in a 400 degree oven for about 40 minutes, the beets are done when easily pierced to the center with a knife. Then cool, peel and cut the beets into wedges.
Meanwhile, you can start your vegetable prep. You need to clean and dry the watercress, chop the herbs, slice the avocado, dice the shallots and jalapeño and squeeze the lime juice. Take your time and make sure to wash your hands after you dice the jalapeño.
Once your prep is done, you can make the dressing and assemble the dish. The vinaigrette combines lime juice, shallot, jalapeño, salt and olive oil. It is a good idea to taste the jalapeño for heat, as it can vary by pepper, and adjust the amount you use in the vinaigrette accordingly. Once the vinaigrette is done you can add some of it to the crabmeat, taste and then adjust for volume and seasoning. This is a key step, take your time and start with less than half of the vinaigrette and adjust to your taste. We used half of the dressing and felt it was plenty, but the crab, pepper and the olive oil can all vary, best to taste and trust your taste buds.
The final result is a restaurant-quality dish that almost anyone can make at home. We served the dish at lunch, and it would easily serve four. But it would be a good appetizer or starter salad at dinner for six. We enjoyed the dish so much we will probably have to make it at least one more time before Dungeness season ends. Meanwhile, we will certainly be making more recipes from the “Sunday Suppers at Lucques” cookbook, it’s a winner.
Dungeness Crab Salad With Avocado and Roasted Beets:
(Adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques)
Notes Before You Start:
- If Dungeness crab is not available in your area you can substitute stone, blue or peekytoe crabmeat.
- We adapted the recipe to make the Cilantro optional. A few of our family and friends are not fans of cilantro with light dishes like seafood. But feel free to include it.
What You Get: A very tasty, restaurant-quality seafood salad.
What You Need: No special equipment required. There is a good amount of chopping and dicing, so a sharp knife will help.
How Long? About 60 minutes of total cooking time. 40-45 minutes to roast the beets, 10-15 minutes to assemble the salad. This is an anytime dish, particularly if you roast the beets ahead.
(Serves 4 as a large salad)
- 6 medium golden or red beets
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 lemon for juice
- 1/4 cup finely diced shallots
- 1 medium jalapeño, cored, seeded and diced
- 1/3 cup lime juice
- 2 medium avocados, preferably Hass
- 1 bunch watercress, cleaned with most of the stems removed
- 3/4 pound cooked Dungeness crabmeat
- 1 tablespoon of Italian parsley, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon of cilantro, roughly chopped (optional)
- 1/2 cup crème fraîche
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Wash and cut the tops from the beets. Coat the beets with a tablespoon of the oil and a pinch of salt. Place beets on a baking pan and cover with foil. Place the beets in the oven and cook until done, about 40 minutes, or when a knife can easily pierce the beet to the center. When done remove the beets from the oven, let cool for five minutes, then peel the beets. Cut the beets into wedges, drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil, add a sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of juice from the 1/2 lemon and set aside.
- Meanwhile, while the beets are cooking, make the vinaigrette. Combine the shallots, 1/2 the jalapeño, lime juice and a pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Let the mixture meld for 5 minutes, then add 1/2 cup of the olive oil and stir to combine. Taste for heat and seasoning. Add salt, jalapeño or extra oil as needed.
- Slice and peel the avocados and place the slices on the plates (do this at the end so the avocado won’t brown). Add beet wedges and watercress to the plate, with watercress roughly in the center. Then sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- In a medium bowl, combine the crabmeat, parsley, cilantro (if using) and 1/2 of the dressing. Taste and adjust for seasoning and add more dressing, if needed. Arrange the crabmeat on the watercress. Drizzle the plates with the crème fraîche and garnish with cracked pepper and parsley, if you like. Serve.