Thursday Night Smackdown: The Kind of Crabs You Want to Have


They’ve got a crunchy topping!

crab gratin, in various states of completion

I love crab, but last week’s crab ravioli just didn’t hit the mark and was a shitload of work to boot. I hadn’t been planning on redemption crab, but as I was frantically rifling through cookbooks this morning trying to find a recipe in time to make a grocery list in time to make it to work I saw this: crab gratin with artichoke and mushrooms, in Susan Spicer’s Crescent City Cooking. Susan has never led me wrong in the past, and ain’t no gratin ever let me down.

Plus, it’s got the trinity – onion, celery and bell pepper (the New Orleans answer to a mirepoix), and when you start sauteing that shit up your house smells so good you could be in Jim Bob’s Crawdad, Gumbo and Bait shack. I’m going to go ahead and assume there is such a place somewhere in the great state of Louisiana. It also takes a mighty purty picture.

crab gratin, in various states of completion

It’s slightly less attractive once mixed with chopped up artichoke hearts and dusted with cocaine, but the coke really gives the dish that cajun “kick.” Why do you think Emeril is always so hopped up? The running back and forth, the “BAM!”; that’s not normal behavior.*

Of course, I kid; the gratin will not give you a bloody nose, cause you to sit up all night in a bathroom talking rapidly to strangers or get you 8 to 10 for possession. At least, it shouldn’t. I’ve only had it the once, so I can’t be totally sure.

*And no, I am not actually saying that Emeril is a cokehead, and I’m not retracting that statement solely to avoid a libel suit. I think we all know that when I want to insult a celebrity chef, I do it 110%.

crab gratin, in various states of completioncrab gratin, in various states of completion

I whisked some milk followed by cream into my cokehead vegetables, let the sauce simmer for a few minutes, then stirred in some mustard, hot sauce, lemon juice and lemon zest. I conveniently forgot salt altogether, perhaps in unconscious emulation of and solidarity with Top Chef’s Bryan, who totally got robbed like a Zales in a poorly-lit strip mall last night. Not that I am still bitter. At the last minute I folded some just-warmed crab, followed by a handful of scallions.

Since the crab really needed to stand out against the rich, sherry-fortified roux and flavorful veg (and since the recipe called for it), I got the jumbo lump crabmeat. Because that credit card I’ve just paid off? I miss the feeling of that monkey on my back. Thank you, jumbo lumb crab, for helping return his comforting weight to the top of my spinal column. I’ve had entirely too much of a bounce in my step lately.

Seriously, the jumbo lump, she is NO JOKE in the money department. I mean, I still thank my lucky stars every time I get away with a Smackdown that doesn’t involve a $55 stick of butter – although that was one fucking incredible stick of butter, as well it should have been – but I think next week we’ll be smacking down a nice, hearty chicken breast. Or maybe a can of tuna.

crab gratin, in various states of completion

This gratin also gives you an excellent excuse for buying a great big hunk of 24-month aged parm. Because if you’re gonna bust the bank on crab, you can’t top it with green shaker cheese. It’s a good thing that (1) the train was really crowded and (2) I’d forgotten my set of cheese knives, because I was ready to bust out a hunk and start gnawing away. Because I both love cheese and have no shame when on public transportation.

Hold on a sec while I burn the holy hell out of my tongue on some hot cocoa Brian has thoughtfully prepared for me to sip while I write. Also, take that, everyone who is not married to or partnered with my husband, because he rules the school. And he makes the cocoa just right every time.

Okay, tongue scorched. I heaped the crab mixture into two ramekins and quickly tossed the topping together – the aforementioned cheese, some bread crumbs, chopped parsley and, to offset the acid and lightness of the rest of the dish, melted butter and olive oil.*

*For the sarcasm impaired: that was sarcasm.

crab gratin, in various states of completion

I sprinkled the topping liberally over the crab, and it looked like this. Which, isn’t this picture almost kinda sorta like something you might see on 101 Cookbooks, if she cooked with crab, cheese and butter more and were less talented? Yeah, I thought so too.

Then I baked it and briefly ran it under the broiler, and it looked like this:

crab gratin, in various states of completion

(Not actual size.)

You know that I know that you know how hard it is to keep yourself from plunging a fork right through the crunchy, bubbling topping. How you have to be dispassionate and remind yourself that under the layer of crunchy goodness lies a pot of crab bombs in a molten sauce. Coming from someone who not 10 minutes ago was unable to even blow on her cocoa before drinking, you might think this was beyond my power, but I managed. Mainly because I’d paid some good money for the crab and wanted to be able to really taste it. The cocoa is PathMark brand, so I don’t feel the same compunction to caution.

In the meantime, Brian whipped up Susan’s house dressing, a vinaigrette made with a combo of balsamic and cider vinegars and honey. You need your token green stuff alongside your gratin.

crab gratin, in various states of completion

Last week? Totally avenged. If you couldn’t tell from the description and the pictures, this was fantastic. It actually wasn’t too rich, the sauce offset by the lemon juice and zest, The earthy mushrooms added some depth, and the artichoke became virtually indistinguishable from the crab in both texture and deliciousness. The salty, crunchy topping was the icing on the cake, and negated the need for adding the salt I’d forgotten to add earlier because I never remember to taste as I go. The GIANT crab lumps retained all their tenderness and gentle sweetness, and weren’t at all overshadowed by the relative heaviness of its accompaniments.

I’m sorry about the “icing on the cake” cliche. I know it was stupid, because it referred to the dish’s literal topping. And yet, I’m not taking it back.

Even the salad was wonderful; Brian went back for an enormous plate of seconds while I was prevented only by the size of my stomach. Damn standard-size GI system. I say it every time, this woman knows her way around a salad, and the book is worth it for the salad chapter alone. Even her simplest dressings are perfectly balanced and enhance any greens they touch. I think this is the third Smackdown that’s come from Crescent City Cooking now, and each one of them has included a salad, as will any future Smackdown from her book.

This dinner was so good, it totally made up for the fact that my day started by cleaning up a carpet and Christmas tree that had been urinated on with abandon by one very bad dog with no respect for Jesus, forcing me to spray the tree with pet odor remover and then instantly start hoping that pet odor remover does not kill trees. So thank you, Susan Spicer. Thank you.

10 thoughts on “Thursday Night Smackdown: The Kind of Crabs You Want to Have

  1. Hey Michelle,

    I just wanted to say: thank you for the hearty giggle. I know you’re struggling to keep up your enthusiasm for this project right now, but it’s posts like this that I (and, I’d ASSume, other readers) come for. I love the way that you take a joke and run with it. The crack joke, tossed in so casually, just totally tickled my funny bone. After a really long day at work, it was nice to have something to make me smile.

    Thanks for soldiering on and being witty in the face of ennui.



  2. Genius, genius. that sounds delicious. If only there were a way to work in some avocado we’d have been right back in 1983 (but in a good way). Also, the Christmas tree bad dog? actually made me laugh out loud, thank you.

  3. My husband is the designated Cocoa Maker, too. I cook everything else, but cocoa is all him. Crepes, too. Works for me.

    Also, nothing from New Orleans can ever be bad. My mom’s from there, and every time we went to visit my grandparents, I came home five pounds heavier and never wanting to eat again. ALL THEY DO IS EAT THERE. And drink. It’s great.

  4. My husband is originally from a little tiny bayou town in Louisiana and a lover of all things containing crabmeat. He would eat it every day. If you must know the truth, I get a little tired of it especially when he’s purchased a sack and boiled the buggers so “we” can pick them and have crabmeat in the freezer. (Most of it gets eaten as it’s picked and very little makes it to the freezer and yeah, the last time I bought lump crabmeat a pound of it was $24.00 (probably(?) cheaper than you but we do still live in the lovely bayou state). I buy all of our meat and poultry ON SALE so we can indulge his tastes. Thirty dollars for groceries? Buy crab meat because you want some RIGHT NOW and next payday you can get those pesky staples for the frige.)

    That said – I’m buying that book – this looks too good to be true and I’m having that for dinner. My husband thanks you. Gotta leave work and go to the bookstore.

    You are awesome.

  5. Yum. And furthermore, yum. I want some of that, right now. But as I am neither at your house nor in the Crescent City, I’ll make do with warmed-up split pea soup I brought to work, and it was damn fine split pea soup, too! (But that stuff looks like baby shit when it’s cold…)

  6. I really, really want to make, I mean eat, that right now. And if I had a husband who made me hot cocoa, whatever the brand, I would make it tonight for him.
    But I don’t, so I’m not.
    I’ll wait til he’s out of town.

  7. The very first year we got our dog, Charlie, he ‘watered’ our Christmas Tree too. And personalized some gifts we’d already had wrapped and waiting under it, in the process.

    We had crab cakes last night, I was duly inspired by last week’s TNS, unsuccessful though you said it was, to try my hand.

    It ended up being a high pair, as opposed to the royal straight you are posting about today.

  8. kat, you are most welcome. my ennui is slowly funneling off, and i hope to be full steam ahead in the new year. in the meantime, i’m glad i can still amuse.

    curly, i blame myself for not having sent the dog to CCD. and it wasn’t even the jewish dog who did it. (yes, we made one of our dogs jewish.)

    kristin, ooh, yours does crepes? smashing!

    i have never been to NO and i MUST GO and eat eat eat.

    forkful, don’t compliment me, compliment susan spicer. i just followed the directions like an automaton.

    karen, i feel a little better about my crabmeat, it was only a shade more expensive than yours.

    it really is a great little book; the apple, hazelnut and comte salad is an especially nice late fall/early winter treat.

    kay, today is definitely a split pea soup kinda day, at least in new york. it’s so fricking cold, i don’t think numbers go that low.

    other karen, heh.

    amy, yeah, well, our dogs have been with us for more than a year, and this is NOT their first interaction with a christmas tree. hence my ire.

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