Tarragon-Lime Crab And Cucumber Bites
Do you ever get random cravings that you don’t really understand, but you know that you must have the item NOW? I get them a lot. I don’t mean regular cravings, like “Oh, yes, well thank you – I would very much enjoy a piece of that Toblerone bar” or, “If the bag of potato chips happened to be open, and it happened to be in front of me, I don’t suppose that I would turn them away…” I mean the kind of cravings like when you overhear one friend talking to another about her family’s homemade Portuguese chorizo sausages, and you lunge across the room with elbows out to ask if she has any in the freezer. And if she’ll cook some of them up. Now. Please. If it’s not too much trouble……
Lately, I’ve been on a big seafood kick. This is a problem, because there are four individuals who live in my house: Mike, myself, Boots Bigelow (orange tabby) and Magnum (black and white hellion). I am the only one of the four who craves seafood. Biggy Smalls and Magnum tend towards the poultry-pleasers 12 pack of assorted tins, and have no interest whatsoever in fruits de la mer. I’ve even tried giving those little bastards darlings small pieces of shrimp, salmon or scallops – in return, I got that, “WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO POISON ME???!!!!” look that cats get when they’re particularly offended. As for Mike, he’ll eat almost anything without tentacles, but it’s not really a dazzling food-gift for him. Given the choice between seafood and steak, I always know which way he’ll lean.
So there I am, and the seafood craving hits when I’m in the grocery store. I stand paralyzed by greed as I fixate on the fresh king crab legs, resting in all of their orange clad glory on a cushion of softly shaved ice. They looked so statuesque and regal, it was all that I could do to contain myself from clawing my way over the counter and plundering their succulent wares. I was yearning for these crab legs. I started to get emotionally invested in the prospect of having them for dinner that night. Then, the ubiquitous pubescent boy who always seems to be working in the seafood/deli section (of any given grocery store) came over to grudgingly offer his meager assistance. I wanted to say, “YES PLEASE!! I’ll take THEM ALL!!!” But I didn’t.
The thing is, there was that small matter of price. As in, the exorbitantly ridiculous price, whereby I COULD feast on these glorious crab legs with my seafood-tolerating partner, or I could buy a new pair of totally unnecessary shoes with the same amount of cash.”No….” I sighed heavily, and gave that young smock wearing fellow the most soulful look of apologetic mourning that I could muster. I think he got it. I’m pretty sure that he felt my pain of not being able to afford disturbingly overpriced crab in a suburban grocery store, despite the fact that I wanted it so badly that I could already taste the sweet brininess in my mouth. There was just something in the way he shrugged, “Whatever” and walked away, that really said, “Look lady, I understand. If I could give you that crab for free, I would, and you wouldn’t need to flash me your boobs or anything. It’s just because deep down, I want to be a nice guy when I grow up. But I can’t give it to you, because right now the store manager is watching me and I need this job because I’m saving up for school (to be a paramedic, I want to save lives), but otherwise, if things were different….” Yup. I’m sure that’s what he really meant. Teenage-speak is a complex language, after all.
The crux of the matter is that my crabby craving had only grown stronger when I realized that I couldn’t get what I wanted, so I went searching for a close facsimile. ’Krab’ made from Alaskan pollack? Uhhh…no. Thank you, though. Canned crab that happens to be on discount for $1.99? I considered it, and although I will buy the ‘lump’ version (read: slightly less shredded beyond recognition) if I’m making a dip or whatnot, that simply wouldn’t cut it. I mean, you can’t eat a can of tuna when you’re craving sushi, right? But then I saw it: my salvation, in the form of a refrigerated 400g oversized tin of claw and lump crab meat. Sure, at $8.99 a tin it was more than I would normally pay, but that’s a better than average price for claw and lump crab meat, right?
Well, it’s like my Dad always says: if it looks to good to be true, it probably is. I got home and heated up some garlic butter, sliced up some fresh baguette, and sat down to open up my tin of crab….and it was everything that you would expect a tin of crab to be. Sigh. I spent almost $9 for a bigger tin of crappy crab meat. Oh well, you live, you learn, and you pull a couple of cucumbers out of the fridge when you’re ready to move on.
I love crab salad on a nice crusty roll or croissant, but I often can’t bring myself to eat it, because the thought of willfully ingesting all of that creamy mayo kind of frightens me. I mean, I’m a chubber at the best of times, but over the last two months I’ve swelled out so much that I’m considering telling people that I have elephantiasis of the abdomen. Anything, really, to avoid the pitying looks and unsolicited comments such as, “Don’t worry, dear, weight goes up and weight goes down. You’ll be just fine.” As a result, this is a lightened up version of the traditional creamy crab salad. There’s still mayo in there (my culinary transgressions will only go so far), but the dressing has a texture more like buttermilk. Flavors come out less through fat and more through herbs and aromatics. It’s a nice, fresh twist on the classic crab-salad in a cucumber cup.
Also, tarragon and lime may be one of my current favorite combinations. I had no idea that they would meld so splendidly! I started making this because, frankly, I was out of lemons but as long as there is vodka in my cabinet I have limes in the fridge. But now, tarragon and lime have had a second and third date in my kitchen since I made this, and I think it’s safe to say that they’re possibly going steady. I anticipate that this will be a continued relationship, as long as I can keep Mr. Lime away from those pesky margaritas…
Tarragon-Lime Crab And Cucumber Bites
Yields appx 20 – 24 small bites
- 400 g lump crab meat (appx 2 cups)
- 1.5 tbsp mayonnaise
- 1 tsp mirin *
- 2 limes
- 1 large clove garlic
- 2 tbsp finely minced red onion
- 2 tbsp finely chopped pickled asparagus **
- 2 tsp finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves ***
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 large English cucumbers
* Mirin is a sweet Japanese cooking wine. If you can’t find mirin, you can substitute white wine mixed with a little bit of sugar. However, there is so little in this dish that you could even, in a pinch, mix 1 tsp of rice vinegar with 1/2 tsp of honey. It would add a bit more acid, but that wouldn’t be a bad thing.
** I do adore pickled asparagus eaten straight from the jar or as a touch of texture and flavor in an appetizer or cold dish. If you don’t have pickled asparagus, you can use a combination of chopped gherkins and capers, or even a briny (not garlickly) dill pickle.
*** Only have dried tarragon? Use the same amount, 2 tsp. I find that dried tarragon does not keep as much flavor as the fresh, unlike other herbs like oregano or thyme.
Dollop the mayo into a medium bowl. Pour in the mirin, squeeze in the juice of both limes, and press or grate 1 large clove of garlic into the mix. When you whisk it together it will have a consistency similar to buttermilk.
Make sure that your red onion is finely minced, and the pickled asparagus is finely chopped.
Finely chop the fresh tarragon as well, and add the onion, asparagus and tarragon to the dressing. Give it a quick whisk to combine.
Add the crab meat to the dressing, and fold it gently to combine. You don’t want to be too rough with stirring, because it would be a shame to break up the lumps of meat which are always more few and far between than we would like. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Slice an English cucumber into horizontal rounds, each about 1 inch in width.
Using a melon baller or a small sharp spoon, scoop the inside out of each cucumber round. Be careful to leave the bottom intact without going all the way through. Essentially, you are making a tiny cucumber bowl.
Fill each cucumber bowl with a generous amount of filling, packing it in slightly at the bottom.
The crabby cucumber bites can be garnished with tarragon or thin slices of lime, whatever tickles your fancy.
These satisfied the craving for crab rather well, in a nice bright and fresh way. After all of the turkey, prime rib, and gravy that I’ve been eating over the last couple of weeks, a nice light meal of cucumber and seafood canapes was just what the doctor ordered.
My sister-in-law bought me these delightful chopstick holders in the shape of lotus flowers. I plated up a number of these on wee individual serving dishes, including my chopstick plates and a number of small sauce plates and other rectangular plates from my various sushi sets. It made me feel slightly better about getting gypped in the crab department.
On the down side, making small plates and wee bites always puts me very much in the mood to host another cocktail party. I know that everyone needs a rest right after the holidays, myself (definitely) included, but….but cheeseballs and small crab and cucumber bites!! And cocktails, and friends! I think the vacuum is coming out of hiding tonight.