Coast-of-Mainers are lucky enough to be able to buy sweet, freshly picked crabmeat either from local pickers or in specialty seafood stores or now, even in the supermarket.
Crabs are a by-catch of lobster – that is, the smaller crustaceans are after the same bait as lobsters, so were hauled up in lobster traps and often just tossed back overboard.
Nowadays, however, crabs – both the Jonah and rock or peekytoe varieties – have become an increasingly important industry in Maine and many fishermen use special traps to catch them. Since crabmeat has become pricey, serving it as an hors d’oeuvre is the perfect use for the sweet, delicate meat. Here are two recipes, one hot, one cold.
Carter Point Lemon-Tarragon Crab Spread
This spread, bound with mayonnaise and cream cheese to give it body, and spiked with lemon and tarragon, is a wonderful treatment of the delicate meat. It has just enough seasoning to enhance, but not overwhelm, the flavor of the fresh crabmeat. If you forget to leave the cream cheese out at room temperature for an hour or so to soften, zap it in the microwave for a few seconds.
Makes about 50 hors d’oeuvres, serving about 8.
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup finely chopped scallions
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon (or 1 teaspoon dried), plus sprigs for garnish
1½ teaspoons grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound fresh crabmeat, picked over to remove any shell or cartilage
Salt to taste
2 European cucumbers
Whisk together the mayonnaise, cream cheese, scallions, tarragon, lemon zest and cayenne in a large bowl. Add the crabmeat and stir well with a large fork until mixed. Season with salt to taste. (The mixture can be made up to 6 hours ahead and refrigerated.)
When you are ready to serve the spread, score the cucumbers horizontally with a fork and slice them ¼-inch thick. Spoon the crab mixture atop the cucumber slices, garnish with a tarragon sprig and serve. Or, place the crabmeat mixture in a bowl, surround with the cucumber slices and let guests serve themselves.
Gratin of Crab and Spinach with Black Pepper Toasts
A layer of cooked spinach nestles under this rich crab and cream cheese blend. Served warm, the gratinéed crab is surrounded by black pepper toasts on which to spread it. In place of fresh spinach, you can use ½ cup thawed, chopped frozen spinach, squeezed dry.
1 (6-ounce) bag baby spinach
Salt, to taste
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon liquid hot pepper sauce
½ pound crabmeat
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
BLACK PEPPER TOASTS:
1 skinny baguette
2 tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
To make the gratin, cook spinach in a small amount of water in a saucepan or in the microwave just until wilted, about 3 minutes. Drain well, chop, and season with salt to taste. You should have about ½ cup. Spread the cooked spinach in the bottom of a shallow 1-quart ovenproof serving dish, such as an oval gratin dish.
Beat the cream cheese with the mayonnaise, onion, Worcestershire and hot pepper sauce in a bowl. (It’s easiest with an electric mixer.) Fold in the crabmeat. Dollop the crab mixture over the spinach and smooth the top. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or for up to 24 hours. Bring to room temperature before baking.
For the toasts, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut about 30 (1/8-inch-thick) slices from the baguette and arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet. If the bread is more than 1½ inches in diameter, cut the slices in half. Brush with oil and grind black pepper over. Bake until pale golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Cool. (You can store the toasts, or crostini, in a sealed container for 1 day or freeze them.)
When you are ready to serve the gratin, heat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the gratin until hot throughout and the top is lightly browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Place the dish on a platter, surround with toasts and serve.
Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently “Lobster!” (Storey, 2012). She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula, and can be contacted via Facebook at: