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When summertime's heat begins to drag you down, no main course does a better job of making you feel refreshed and lightened than a main course salad. A plateful of fresh greens and other vegetables, combined with some chilled protein and a flavorful dressing, can excite and satisfy you without sending you into a stupor. And, of course, it may also help you continue to look good in your bathing suit.
One of my favorite summer main course salads is a classic known as Crab Louie, which you'll also sometimes see spelled as Crab Louis. The difference in spellings is a tipoff to the fact that varying accounts exist of how this popular salad came to exist. Some trace it all the way back to the late-17th/early-18th-century court of French King Louis XIV, renowned for his patronage of the arts and his opulent lifestyle at the Palace of Versailles. Others credit the origin to more recent times, variously placing its birth in the early 20th century to restaurants, hotels, or clubs in San Francisco, Seattle, Spokane, or Portland -- all West Coast establishments with access to premium Pacific crabmeat.
As for the question of whether you call the salad "Louie" or "Louis," to tell you the truth I haven't come across any plausible explanation for the two competing spellings. I've just always spelled it the first way, but accept that others prefer the "s" to the "e."
After at least 100 and possibly more than 300 years, the salad's preparation has developed in many varied ways. There are constants, of course: the crabmeat, lettuce, tomato, and a so-called Louie dressing that's really a variation on mayonnaise-based Russian or Thousand Island dressing. Some versions may include hardboiled egg, or asparagus, chopped cucumber, or other vegetables.
Over time, I've developed my own favorite version. In place of the usual Romaine or iceberg lettuce, I like to use spears of Belgian endive that guests can use as scoops for the crabmeat mixture if you serve the salad as an appetizer; and mixed baby lettuces add more color and flavor to the presentation. I leave out the cooked egg, but add diced avocado for its own rich flavor and luxurious texture. In place of plain tomato, I make a relish-like chopped tomato salad. And rather than spooning prepared dressing from a bottle, I make my own simple version, which I also share with you here.
Try this salad for your own warm-weather lunch or, in smaller portions, as a starter for a casual summer party. Then, in the spirit of Crab Louie's ever-evolving nature, start coming up with your own variations -- including other vegetables, for example, or adding different kinds of cold cooked seafood to the mix.
Crab Louie Recipe with Homemade Thousand Island Dressing & Fresh Tomato Relish
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Yield: Serves 4 as a main course, 8 as an appetizer
Crab Louie Salad Recipe Ingredients
Fresh Tomato Relish
2 medium-sized sun-ripened organic tomatoes, halved, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 medium-sized red onion, finely diced
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/8 teaspoon sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat
6 tablespoons Thousand Island Dressing (recipe follows)
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh organic chives
32 Belgian endive leaves
6 cups mixed organic baby salad leaves, well chilled
2 ripe but firm Hass avocados, halved, pitted, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
Thousand Island Dressing
Makes about 1-1/4 cups
3/4 cup store-bought mayonnaise
1/4 cup tomato ketchup
2 tablespoons bottled tomato-based barbecue sauce
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill pickle or sweet pickle, or bottled cucumber relish
1/2 tablespoon finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 tablespoon finely chopped fresh organic chives
Crab Louie Salad Recipe Instructions
First, make the Tomato Relish.
In a mixing bowl, combine the tomato, onion, olive oil, parsley, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving time.
Shortly before serving, thoroughly pick through the crabmeat, removing any traces of shell or cartilage. Put the crabmeat in a mixing bowl and gently fold in the Thousand Island Dressing and the chives, taking care to leave lumps of crab.
Arrange the individual endive leaves in flower patterns on chilled serving plates. Arrange a bed of baby salad leaves in the center of each plate.
Distribute the crabmeat mixture evenly among the plates, mounding it on top of the salad leaves. Spoon the diced avocado and the Tomato Relish on top of the crabmeat.
Thousand Island Dressing
In a nonreactive mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients. Stir thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.
Crab, Crab Louie, Seafood
Crab Louie with Thousand Island Dressing & Fresh Tomato Relish
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