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.
For some strange reason, I developed a craving from my childhood – a pimento (an alteration of the Spanish word for pepper, pimiento) cheese sandwich. Interestingly enough, since then I have become aware that pimento cheese is popping up on more and more restaurant menus. The delicacy is borne of the Great Depression. It made a good substitute for PB&J and was cheap. Besides that, it came in little glasses stenciled with colorful embossed designs so that over time you could accumulate a whole set of juice glasses. In the South, pimento cheese sandwiches were the stuff of ladies luncheons. I have also heard that they are a tradition at the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, but obviously less iconic than the green jacket.
For my lunch bag, the cheese was spread between two slices of white sandwich bread. For the fancy version, the crusts are removed and then the sandwiches are cut into fancy shapes and often garnished with watercress. Except in the South, all of that is of the 40s and 50s. The little glasses are still available, but they have lost their colorful embossing. In my local grocery store, one 5 ounce glass was priced at nearly five dollars. In the South, and probably other places, you can still buy pint containers from the chilled dairy section at the super market.
All of that is mostly of historical interest. It is easy to make your own, and it is guaranteed to be tastier. On top of that, you can doctor it up any way you please. The basic recipe calls for three ingredients: Cheddar cheese, bottled pimentos, and mayonnaise. I’ve added chopped “snacker” peppers for crunch. These cute little peppers have only recently been showing up in my local market. I’ve also added sour cream and Spanish hot paprika.
Once you have your pimento cheese spread, you can keep it in the refrigerator for a while. As well, if you get tired of sandwiches, you can use the spread for stuffed celery – another 1950s classic – or whatever you can dream up including twice baked pimento cheese potatoes. You’ll have to find your juice glasses elsewhere.
Pimento Cheese Spread
- 1 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
- ½ pound Monterey jack cheese, grated
- 3 miniature eating peppers, seeded and diced finely
- 4 ounces (1 jar) diced pimento, drained
- 1/3 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/3 teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon hot paprika
- 2/3 cup sour cream
- 1/3 cup mayonnaise
- In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients
- Mix thoroughly so that the cheese is evenly distributed
- Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or more
Twice Baked Pimento Cheese Potatoes
- 1 large russet potato
- 1 tablespoon butter
- pimento cheese spread
- 2 green scallions, slices, including green tops
- 2 slices bacon, fried until crisp, crumbled
- Pierce the potato in several places with a sharp fork. Coat with the butter, and bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 350° F for 75 minutes.
- When the potato is baked, remove from the oven and cool on a baking rack.
- Cut the potato in half lengthwise and scoop out the potato flesh, leaving a ¼ inch shell and being careful not to break the skin of the potato.
- In a small bowl, mash the potato flesh until smooth. Add an equal amount of pimento cheese spread and mix to combine.
- Stir in the scallions and bacon.
- Divide the mixture in half and pack into the potato shells.
- Return the stuffed potatoes to the middle of the oven at 400°F for 15 minutes. Then turn on the broiler and continue to broil the potatoes until the tops are well browned – about another 2 minutes or so.
- Serve immediately while still warm. Serves two.
Spanish hot paprika
Sharp Cheddar and Monterey jack cheeses
Pimento cheese spread
Pimento cheese sandwich (crusts removed)
1950s-style pimento-stuffed celery
Baked potato stuffed with mixture of potato, pimento cheese spread, scallions, and bacon
Steak and twice-baked pimento cheese potato
The other evening we were invited to a dinner party. It was a little bit of a pot luck, and we were asked to bring a light appetizer. I decided to use some puff pastry from the freezer to make empanadas, but that seemed a little bland, so I also made some mayonnaise as a dipping sauce.
Mayonnaise is so easy to make, and it tastes so much better than the bottled kind, that it seems crazy not to make your own. Especially when you have a fool-proof recipe (so far at least) from one of the world’s greatest chefs. Michel Roux of the Michelin-starred, much-honored Waterside Inn in England, has written a beautiful little book simply called “eggs” (John Wiley and Sons, 2005) filled with amazingly creative, not-so-classic and classic egg recipes including, of course, mayonnaise.
I doctored up the basic recipe using some tricks from Sarah and Evan. The additions of freshly grated horseradish and finely chopped chives or green scallion tops make a great dip that perks up the empanadas.
I filled the empanadas with hearts of palm, parsley, and grated Parmesan, but you can let your imagination run wild: tiny button mushrooms, little shrimp (is that redundant?), water chestnuts, olives (seed removed, of course), cubes of cheese, dolma filling, etc., etc., would all be good. I don’t know, but maybe a little oyster would work.
This recipe makes 20-24 appetizers depending upon how big you make the empanadas
- Put the egg yolks, mustard, salt and pepper in a small mixing bowl with handles and/or on a towel or other non-slip surface. Combine with a balloon whisk until smooth.
- Whisking continuously, add a few drops of oil. When the oil is completely incorporated, add more oil, repeating the process until the mayonnaise thickens. You may then add the oil in a more continuous stream, but pause occasionally to make sure the oil is fully incorporated before adding more.
- When all of the oil has been incorporated, whisk for another minute or so until the mayonnaise is smooth. Then add the lemon juice. The mayonnaise will become visibly less yellow. Adjust with more lemon juice, salt, and pepper to suit your taste.
- Stir in the horseradish and chives or scallions. Add more of either to suit your taste.
- Refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, until ready to use. This should hold for several hours.
Puff Pastry Empanadas
- ¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, freshly and finely grated
- 1 sheet commercial frozen puff pastry, thawed according to directions
- 1 14½ ounce can hearts of palm, drained and cut into ½ inch coins
- 1 egg, beaten well with 2 tablespoons water
- In a small bowl, combine the parsley and Parmesan cheese. Set aside
- On a lightly floured work surface, open the thawed sheet of puff pastry. With a lightly floured rolling pin, flatten the pastry to about 1/16 inch thick
- Using a 3 inch circular cookie cutter (a 2½ inch biscuit cutter will do) cut circles in the flattened pastry dough. Working quickly, place a palm coin and about ¼ teaspoon of the parsley/Parmesan mixture in the center of each circle. Paint the edges of the circles with the egg mixture, using a small pastry brush.
- One by one and using your hands, stretch the dough gently to cover the palm disk. Pinch the edges of the half-moon empanada closed with your finger and then seal with the tines of a dinner fork
- Arrange the empanadas on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper
- Paint the tops of the empanadas with the egg mixture, trying not to let it drip onto the parchment.
- Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 400°F for 15 minutes or until puffed and lightly browned.
- Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack to cool.
- Serve with the dipping mayonnaise either at room temperature or gently rewarmed.
Egg yolks, mustard, salt and pepper ready to receive the oil
One cup of peanut oil
Parsley and grated Parmesan
Puff pastry empanadas ready for the oven
Baked puff pastries
One of our family traditions – probably a tradition in your family, too – is that for birthdays, the honoree gets to select the menu for the whole day. While we were in Los Angeles, my grand-daughter celebrated her thirteenth birthday. That was a momentous occasion not only for her, but also for her younger brother and her parents. Officially, she became a teenager, but these days that is only semantics. Fortunately, she is not driving yet, but the birthday was a stark reminder that the day for that is not far away.
Included in my grand-daughter’s food selections for the day was bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches for breakfast. Of course, she got to sleep late on a weekend so it was closer to brunch than breakfast. Still, a little odd for my elderly clock, but I freely admit that they were delicious.
These were not your usual BLTs. Challah was the preferred bread. That seemed to be an odd companion to bacon, but nobody blinked.
No one in the family likes mayonnaise, so there was none. How can you have a BLT without mayonnaise? They allowed me my own. The bacon was crisped in the oven, and the lettuce was the tender butter kind. The tomatoes were beautiful heirlooms, almost purple in color.
Everyone in the family is averse to onion as well, but they accommodated me with thick slices of red onion. They don’t like avocados, either, so they sliced a perfectly ripe avocado just for me.
We gathered around a buffet to assemble our personal creations. Mine was an elaborate BLT+ARO. Then we enjoyed a beautiful Southern California morning on the back patio. Gifts were opened, including a new iPhone – every California teenager needs one, I was told.
My special BLT with avocado and red onion
All in all a great way to start a day of celebration.
- 2 slices challah
- 3 strips bacon, fried crisp
- 2 large slices, heirloom tomatoes
- 2 leaves butter lettuce
- ½ ripe avocado, sliced
- 1 slice red onion
- salt and pepper
- Spread the slices of challah with mayonnaise
- Arrange the bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, and red onion on one slice of bread. You may need extra mayonnaise between layers.
- Season with salt and pepper
- Top with the remaining slice of bread for a thick sandwich.
- Eat with plenty of napkins handy or over the kitchen sink.
A week or so ago my post provided the details of a crawfish boil in Silicon Valley. For that great event, my daughter-in-law asked me to make coleslaw. I call her the “Salad Queen” because she whips up the most delicious salads on a moment’s notice, but she claimed that coleslaw was not something she liked to make. I confess that I’m not a big fan of most coleslaw, either. That’s because they often contain the core of the cabbage head, the cabbage is in big chunks with the heavy taste of cabbage, and the salad is swimming in runny mayonnaise.
Years ago I learned the first important lesson for coleslaw from my younger daughter when she was only about ten years old. She was assigned to do the cabbage chopping for a family gathering. We thought she would be finished in just a few minutes, but a half hour later she was still chopping and the cabbage was as fine as I had ever seen it. She had also removed the core of the cabbage before she started the project. Everyone loved one of her first cooking projects.
The second lesson comes from a consideration of the origins of the word, coleslaw. It is derived from the Danish word, koolsla, meaning cabbage (cole) salad ( sla, a contraction of salade). The point of all that is you can use any kind of cabbage or even cabbage relatives you want (especially shredded Brussels sprouts, but also broccoli, rabe, or cauliflower) , and you can put anything else that catches your fancy in the salad. Apples, carrots, celery, and chopped nuts are among the most common additives.
The third lesson for me is that a little mayonnaise goes a long way – much farther than you think. In recent times, I always add less mayonnaise than I think the dish needs. That includes tuna salad, sandwiches, and coleslaw In every instance what I have learned is that less is better, and you can always add more. Of course, homemade mayonnaise is better than bottled, and it doesn’t take too much extra time to make. Another option is not to use mayonnaise at all; freshly made vinaigrette is a refreshing substitute.
For the crawfish boil, I decided to use napa (Chinese) cabbage and red cabbage along with red onion, carrot, bell pepper, and celery for the basic salad. I used vinaigrette with a shot of sesame oil for the dressing. Here is the recipe.
1 large head, napa cabbage, cored, sliced and chopped very finely
1 small head red cabbage, cored, sliced and chopped very finely
1 medium red onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled, grated, and chopped finely
- 1 bell pepper, seeded, ribs removed, and diced
- 3 stalks celery, diced
- 2 teaspoons celery seed
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients
- In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, mustard, garlic powder, and sugar.
- While whisking continuously, drizzle in the olive oil until completely incorporated.
- Stir in the sesame oil, and correct seasonings with salt and pepper
Dressing the Salad
- Pour only about half of the vinaigrette onto the coleslaw and gently stir in until the salad is completely dressed
- Add more dressing as needed, being especially careful not to use too much. The coleslaw should be moistened but not damp with dressing
- Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Green bell pepper
Another part of our recent meal provided from our trip to the Ferry Building Farmers Market. Even though these days asparagus is available the year around, local, really fresh asparagus is still a harbinger to the spring in northern climes. It is then that it is at its best. There are lots of great ways to cook asparagus – steamed, boiled, baked, and grilled. This method taught to me by Sarah produces the greenest, freshest-tasting asparagus I’ve ever had.
Fresh asparagus spears
We bought three bundles of the thickest stalks we could find in the asparagus stall at the market.
Juicing the asparagus stems
When we were ready for dinner, Sarah cut the thick ends of the stalks where the tender flesh begins. You probably already do the same. I usually throw away those woody ends, but Sarah dropped them into her electric juicer and got the greenest asparagus juice I’ve ever seen. Actually, I’d never seen asparagus juice before.
Peeling the asparagus spears
Next, using a very sharp paring knife, Sarah made the very thinnest peelings of the skins of the asparagus spears.
Peeled asparagus spears ready to cook
Then she put the juice, seasoned with just a little salt and pepper, in a pan large enough to allow the spears to lie flat. She brought the juice to a boil, dropped in the spears, and cooked them for just a few minutes until the asparagus was tender. The finished spears were a bright green color and fragrant.
Asparagus spears cooking in asparagus juice
Sarah served the asparagus with just sections of lemon to squeeze over it, but you can use whatever is your favorite asparagus sauce – hollandaise, aioli, or home-made mayonnaise.