While many people hate the arrival of winter, lamenting the short days and chilly weather, I know I have something incredible to look forward to besides the holidays. When the days turn cold it marks the beginning of crab season, one of my favorite events of the year! In San Francisco we celebrate the gorgeous Dungeness crabs, but on the East Coast they love their Blues.
My friend Danny is an avid Carolina Panthers fan, a treasure hunter, and one heck of a great guy. And he just happens to be a great storyteller. Danny grew up on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a string of small barrier islands protecting the mainland from the Atlantic Ocean. The area has a fascinating history including The Lost Colony of Roanoke, Blackbeard and his gang of pirates, the Graveyard of the Atlantic and the wreck of the USS Monitor, the first wireless telegraph, and the first manned flight at Kitty Hawk.
Danny’s family has a long history in the area … his great-grandparents were caretakers for the Bodie Island Lighthouse, one of the most photographed lighthouses in America that protects ships from going aground on the shifting sandbars. Danny grew up in Wanchese, a small village on Roanoke Island. I can imagine him as a little boy, his hair blowing in the wind, racing up and down the sandy beach pretending he was a fierce pirate and brandishing a stick as his sword!
Growing up on an island had its perks. There were beaches to explore, shells to collect and kites to fly in the strong winds. Every boy’s dream was to own his own boat, long before thoughts of buying a car. We didn’t grow up in an affluent area and every parent tried their best to provide for their family. Our family did not have much money, but Mom and Dad did not let us kids know just how poor we were. There was always a meal on the table, and for our family it was usually seafood. Every night we would have fish, shrimp or scallops. On Sundays we splurged with fried chicken or a chuck roast.
Today’s parents worry about their children getting into drugs or alcohol. For my parents it was the fear that they would lose their son to the sea. At the age of seven, I fell from the docks and all I remember was slowly drifting to the bottom of the deep, blue water. I remember it was a peaceful feeling – but from across the harbor someone saw me fall in, somehow located me at the bottom, and rescued me.
Another time on a cold December night, while a friend and I were fishing with nets, our boat hit something and the entire bottom was demolished. We were in the frigid water for over five hours until we were found. When we arrived back on shore our bodies were blue from the cold and we had to be put in tubs of water to bring our body temperatures back to normal.
In those days when the crops were ready for harvest the kids would be allowed to leave school to help the family bring them in. In our community, when the boats came to port, a call was made to the school and we knew it was time for work. There was always a lot to do and it had to be done quickly before the fish spoiled. They needed every hand they could get and we enjoyed being able to be outside and not in the classrooms.
At the age of 9, I had my first job making boxes and packing seafood. It was long hours and yes it was hard, but I loved it. The first week on the job I worked 90 hours and received $90. It was a proud day. The sea always provided for our family and continues to do so today. In the family for three generations, my cousin now runs the Wanchese Fish Company, one of the largest suppliers of raw and prepared fish and shellfish in the industry.
The sea provides in other ways as well. One of my favorite hobbies is taking my metal detector out on the beach and hunting for buried treasure. It may not be the gold doubloons of Blackbeard’s time, but I enjoy it and have made some amazing discoveries.
I consider myself a very lucky man to have survived many harrowing experiences including being on the ocean during the Perfect Storm and making it back to port safely. I have wonderful memories from my childhood on the island, and one of my favorites is sitting on the docks eating steamed hard crabs. I love crab in any form, but hot crab dip is always a special treat.
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Today Danny is sharing his recipe for the fastest, easiest, and most delicious crab dip I have ever tasted! I know that it will become one of your go-to recipes as well. And of course I couldn’t give you just one. Nope, now that we are in crab season, I decided to add several other favorites of mine to make sure you had plenty to choose from, LOL.
If you are anything like me, you have several appetizer recipes that you know you can take to any party and everyone will be thrilled to see them arrive. The Crab Mousse is one of those recipes where you look at the ingredients and shake your head, thinking there is no way this is going to taste good. But you will be surprised. This is velvety and very rich tasting. I don’t normally use canned condensed soups, but this is one case where it is necessary for the consistency and flavor.
When fresh crab is out of season you can certainly used canned crab, but you will lose a lot of flavor. You can buy fresh crabmeat from your fishmonger but it is cost prohibitive so I buy it cracked and take it out of the shell myself. Be careful to remove all the small bits of shell so no one breaks a tooth! They can be very hard to see because both the crabmeat and shell are white, so use your fingers to feel for them. Be prepared to stand at your sink for a while, but everyone will appreciate your efforts when they taste these appetizers!
You can serve the Warmed Crab and Cheese dip baked in a casserole as described below or you can keep it warm in a chafing dish, slow cooker or fondue pot and serve with chunks of bread or tortilla chips for dipping. In this case do not top with the breadcrumbs. If I am serving it at a party I like to put a spoon in the chafing dish so my guests can scoop some onto their plates and then eat it at their leisure. Danny’s dip can also be kept warm in a slow cooker or chafer.
Happy Crab-Fest Day at The Heritage Cook!
If you are interested in sharing your story like Danny and others have, select “Collaboration” under the “Pantry” tab above for details.
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
When you are planning a party, make sure you have a good selection of foods for your guests to choose from. There should be some vegetarian options as well as items that those on a diet can enjoy without worry. Try to balance rich and decadent with light and fresh. And don’t forget that colors are important to the overall appeal of your buffet. Using bright fruits and vegetables as decoration is a great way to make your table stunning. Most important of all, have fun!
- 1 French baguette, sliced thinly
- Garlic powder
- 4 oz (1/2 package) cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1 (6.5 oz) container Alouette Garlic and Herbs Soft Spreadable Cheese, or your favorite flavor
- 2 tbsp dry white wine or dry vermouth, optional
- 1 lb jumbo lump Backfin crabmeat, or other type of crabmeat, picked over to remove any pieces of shell
- Chopped fresh chives, for garnish
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Spread the baguette slices out on a baking sheet and sprinkle each one with a little of the garlic powder. Bake until light golden brown. 3 to 5 minutes.
- In a small heatproof bowl, combine the cream cheese and Alouette cheese, whisking until smooth. Whisk in the wine if you want to thin it slightly. Gently fold in the crabmeat. Warm it in a microwave or transfer to a saucepan and place it over very low heat if you prefer.
- This dip is good served at room temperature or warmed. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle the top with the chives. Serve with the toasted garlic baguette slices.
- Yield: about 6 servings
- 4 tbsp butter, divided
- 2 large shallots, minced
- 2 tbsp dry vermouth
- 3/4 cup cream cheese (6 oz), softened
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 2 tsp ground turmeric
- 3 tbsp minced chives
- 2 tbsp minced fresh thyme leaves
- 2 tsp seeded and finely chopped pepperoncini
- 1 roasted red bell pepper, minced
- Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
- 1-1/2 lb jumbo lump crabmeat, picked over to remove any bits of shell
- 2/3 cup panko breadcrumbs, optional
- Paprika, optional
- Pita chips or toasted baguette slices
- Fresh lemon wedges
- In a medium skillet, melt 1 tbsp of the butter. Add the shallots and cook over moderate heat until just beginning to brown, 4 minutes. Add the vermouth and cook until nearly evaporated, about 1 minute.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the cream cheese, heavy cream, mayonnaise, mustard, turmeric, chives and thyme. Season lightly with salt and cayenne and stir until smooth and homogenous. Return to the heat if needed to make the cream cheese easier to blend. Stir in the pepperoncini and bell pepper until evenly distributed. Stir in the crabmeat, breaking it up slightly with a spoon. Serve as is for a hot dip or spread in a shallow ovenproof baking dish.
- Preheat the broiler. Position a rack 10 inches from the heat.
- In a small glass bowl, melt the remaining 3 tbsp of butter in a microwave on high heat. Stir in the breadcrumbs and a pinch of salt. Sprinkle the crumbs over the crab dip and broil until the dip is heated through and the topping is golden, about 2 minutes; turning the baking dish halfway through for even browning. Sprinkle the top with a little paprika for additional color. Serve warm with pita chips or toasted baguette slices and lemon slices.
- 1 packet unflavored gelatin (see Note)
- 3 tbsp cold water
- 1 can cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
- 8 oz cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 cup finely chopped celery
- 3 scallions or green onions, minced
- 1 tsp minced fresh garlic, about 2 large cloves
- 1 tsp lemon pepper, or to taste
- 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
- 12 to 16 oz flaked crabmeat (fresh if available or canned, rinsed and drained works well as a substitute)
- Parsley sprigs for garnish
- Lemon slices for garnish
- Dissolve gelatin in water in a small bowl and set aside. Gelatin will expand, absorbing all of the liquid. Lightly oil a 4-cup metal food mold (the kind used for Jell-O molds); set aside.
- In a medium saucepan over low heat, heat undiluted soup, stirring until melted and smooth. Add cream cheese and stir until melted. Remove from heat. Add dissolved gelatin, whisking to incorporate. Add remaining ingredients, except crab and garnishes, stirring to make sure everything is well blended and distributed evenly. Gently fold in crab using a rubber spatula.
- Pour into oiled mold and smooth the top. Cover top with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator. Chill at least 8 hours or overnight.
- Keep mousse molded and refrigerated until just before serving. To help the mousse release, dip mold in hot water being careful not to get any water on the mousse, or wrap it with a hot towel for a few seconds. Set your serving plate on top of the mold, hold the two together and quickly flip then so the mold in on top of the plate. Wiggle the mold gently to help ease the mousse out of it. If it is stubborn, wrap the mold again with a hot towel. If everything else fails, very gently insert a knife between the mousse and the mold, breaking the vacuum seal.
- Garnish platter with parsley and lemon slices and serve mousse with a variety of crackers, thin baguette slices, or crostini.
- Yield: about 15 to 20 appetizer servings.
- Unflavored gelatin is found next to the “Jell-O” display. It comes in a small box, which contains individual packets.
- 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed (half of package)
- 8 oz cream cheese, softened
- 1 tbsp milk
- 1 tbsp prepared horseradish
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 4 green onions, sliced (about 1/2 cup)
- 6 oz fresh crabmeat, picked over well, rinsed and drained
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds, roughly chopped if desired
- Heat the oven to 400°F.
- Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Cut the pastry sheet into 12 (2-inch) circles with a cookie or biscuit cutter. Place the pastry circles onto a baking sheet.
- Bake for 15 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown. Remove from the baking sheet and let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Split each pastry into 2 layers, making 24 pieces in all.
- Place the cream cheese in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth. Stir in the milk, horseradish, black pepper, half of the onions, and the crabmeat. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.
- Spread the crabmeat mixture on 12 bottom pastry layers. Top with the remaining onions and almonds and then place the pastry tops at an angle. Sprinkle with the paprika and serve immediately.