Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Aunt Peggy's Hot Crab Dip
Blue crabs are prized for their sweet, tender meat, and are among the most heavily harvested creatures on the planet. They are excellent swimmers, with specially adapted hind appendages shaped like paddles. Their scientific name, Callinectes sapidus, means "beautiful swimmer."
I grew up eating blue crabs from the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding waterways, but blue crabs have an amazing range. They are found in brackish coastal lagoons and estuaries from Nova Scotia, through the Gulf of Mexico. Some are found as far south as Uruguay. Crabs are bottom-dwelling omnivores that will eat nearly anything. And they are quick to use their sharp front pincers if disturbed.
Because of their popularity, blue crabs have been routinely overharvested. Because of their declines, there are management plans for harvesting in many parts of their range.
Growing up in Norfolk, we were always fortunate to have access to blue crabs. We put pots in at friends’ homes or crabbed from local piers, most often in Ocean View. About 14 years ago, my parents moved to a home on the Lafayette River. If you want blue crabs, my dad can walk down to the pier and put about a dozen pots in the water.
I dearly love steaming blue crabs cooked with Old Bay seasoning, black pepper, vinegar, salt and a touch of cayenne. There is no better way to spend a summer afternoon. But after posting a recipe for clam dip, my thoughts turned to hot crab dip. Finding fresh crab meat in Southwest Virginia is more of a challenge. Greene’s Seafood in Bristol often has great offerings. But even with canned crab (which is often from Asia and is a different variety than blue crab), this recipe is terrific.
My aunt, Margaret Mills of Winston-Salem, N.C., is a stellar cook. This is her tried and true method. Our family calls her Peggy.
Aunt Peggy's hot crab dip
6 ounces of crabmeat, drained (use about a cup of fresh, if you have it)
8 ounces of cream cheese
2 tablespoons onion, diced
1 tablespoon milk
½ teaspoon prepared horseradish
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup almonds, sliced and toasted
Mix ingredients, except almonds, and heat in a saucepan until very hot. Do not let it boil. Transfer to a chafing dish. Sprinkle with almonds and serve.