Crab Louie (or Louis or Louise depending on the reference) is a traditional salad that for many years was synonymous with elegant luncheons. Over the years it has lost some of its glamor and has fallen off many a menu. It has even disappeared from contemporary cookbooks although you can find the recipe in the Joy of Cooking and Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook as well as on the internet. Especially during Dungeness crab season, Crab Louie is still a favorite in San Francisco. Rich Table has had their version in the past. San Francisco may have a predilection for the dish as some sources say it was invented at either Solari’s restaurant or the fabled St. Francis Hotel a few years after the San Francisco earthquake. Other sources place its origin in a Seattle country club or Portland or even Spokane. Still, it is considered a West Coast salad (I guess far-inland Spokane still qualifies as West Coast.)
There are as many variations of the salad as there are recipes, but there are only a few essentials. First, naturally, is crab – although you can add or substitute shrimp or you can use ersatz Krab. Second is lettuce, but your choices include iceberg, Bibb, red leaf, and Romaine among others. Finally, there is the sauce which is a close kin to Thousand Islands dressing usually, though not necessarily, without the pickle relish and with chili sauce instead of ketchup. Most, but not all recipes include hardboiled eggs, and asparagus spears are among the most common additions. Beyond that, everything seems to be fair game, including fresh fruit as described in the Commander’s Palace cookbook.
Over time, many renditions of Crab Louie have begun to resemble a Cobb salad or salade Niçoise. Perhaps that’s part of the reason that the salad has lost its appeal. That’s too bad, because it is delicious and easy to make. Here’s one version in which the most challenging step is to make the home-made mayonnaise. Of course, you can just use bottled mayonnaise, and that makes it even easier, but the hand-made stuff improves the taste with only a few minutes of extra effort.
My image of the finished salad shows some sliced hard-boiled eggs with a faint green ring of shame. That’s usually the result of boiling the eggs too hard and/or too long, but it can also occur when the boiled eggs have sat in the refrigerator for seveal days. That’s what happened to the ones in the image. When they were freshly cooked, the yolks were perfectly golden yellow and silky. Sorry about that, but the goof has inspired me to write later about hard boiling eggs. Post to follow.
- 2 egg yolks, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 cup canola oil (or other neutral-flavored vegetable oil)
- salt and pepper (your choice: black for flavor but black specks, white for color but off-flavor, red for a hint of spiciness. Or use a little of all of them)
- 2 tablespoons fresh, strained lemon juice
- In a medium bowl and using a wire whisk, beat the eggs until well mixed. Add the mustard and continue to whisk until well-combined.
- Add the oil very slowly, a few drops at a time, while whisking continuously. Make sure each addition of oil is incorporated before adding more oil. Addition of oil should take several minutes.
- After all of the oil has been added, continue to whisk for a minute or two before adding the lemon juice. Whisk until the juice has been completely incorporated and the sauce is smooth and glistening.
Crab Louie Sauce
- 1 batch (a little over 1 cup) mayonnaise (see above)
- ¼ cup chill sauce
- ¼ cup scallions, including green tops, finely chopped
- 3 snacking peppers, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
- salt and pepper
- Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl, correcting the seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Use immediately or refrigerate for up to 2 days.
- Romaine lettuce, washed
- 1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed, steamed for about 5 minutes, and chilled
- 1 pound crab, cooked and picked over for cartilage
- Crab Louie sauce
- 3 hard-boiled eggs, chilled, peeled, and sliced
- Arrange several whole Romaine leaves in a serving bowl. Top with coarsely chopped Romaine.
- Arrange chilled asparagus on the chopped lettuce.
- Arrange the cooked crab on the asparagus, top with sauce to your preference, and arrange sliced hard-boiled eggs around the edge.
- Serves 2 to 4.