- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Several months ago, while dining at a seafood restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, I ordered a first-course crab and avocado salad and was stunned by the simple ingenuity of the dish.

Typically, crab salad is mixed with mayonnaise and rarely includes a spicy accent, but this version was bound with creme fraiche and seasoned with cumin.

For entertaining, I love traditional recipes that have been reinterpreted with bright new tastes and this dish certainly falls into that category. Using creme fraiche (the thick French cream that is a cross between heavy cream and sour cream) in place of mayo made a huge difference.

Most commercial mayonnaise is sweetened, and replacing it with the refreshing tartness of creme fraiche allowed the natural sweetness of the crab to shine through instead of being masked. The slightly hot, aromatic accent of cumin was an unexpected but tempting complement to the shellfish.

I decided to try my own rendition of that delectable salad. I combined fresh crabmeat and diced avocados with chopped scallion and celery and added cumin, as well as a pinch of hot red pepper flakes, to the mixture. I used lime juice as a citrus accent and bound the mixture with creme fraiche. I was not disappointed.

I served the crab and avocado salad to two friends for lunch one day along with some warm crusty peasant bread and a compote of fruit for dessert. I will also use it as the opener for a spring all-seafood dinner party cooking class, followed by roasted salmon. In the coming weeks, my husband and I will host several out-of-town visitors, and for light suppers on those nights, I will make this chic, updated salad the centerpiece of the menus.

Crab and avocado salad with creme fraiche and cumin

Crab salad can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before using.

2 ripe (but not mushy) avocados

½ pound fresh crabmeat, picked over

1/4 cup finely diced celery

1/4 cup finely chopped scallion

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus 2 teaspoons extra for sprinkling over avocado slices

2 tablespoons creme fraiche (see note)

11/4 teaspoons ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish

Halve one of the avocados lengthwise and remove and discard the seed. With a sharp knife, remove flesh from both halves and cut into small dices. Place diced avocado in a large nonreactive bowl. Save the other avocado for the garnish.

Add crab, celery and scallion to the bowl. Add 2 tablespoons lime juice, creme fraiche, cumin, salt and hot red pepper flakes to the bowl and toss gently to combine. Taste and season with more salt, if needed.

When ready to serve, halve the remaining avocado lengthwise and remove and discard the seed. Carefully remove flesh from each half and cut into thin slices.

Arrange 4 or 5 avocado slices in a spoke pattern on each of 4 salad plates. Drizzle a little of the remaining lime juice over the slices. Divide crab salad evenly and mound on top of avocado slices on each plate. Garnish each serving with a sprinkling of parsley. Makes 4 servings.

Note: Creme fraiche is available in many supermarkets, but if you can’t find it, the following recipe works well. You only need a small amount for this recipe, but extra creme fraiche can be stirred into soups or used in sauces.

CREME FRAICHE

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1/3 cup sour cream

Whisk cream and sour cream together in a medium nonreactive bowl. Let stand at warm room temperature 8 hours or longer until thickened. Cover and refrigerate. Creme fraiche can be stored up to 1 week, covered, in the refrigerator.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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