It was quite a challenge to make people eat crab ice cream.
No such horrors here. Instead lovely recipes for crab dips and crab cakes; for oyster stews and oyster gumbo. And for all the lovely in-betweens and along-sides: tartar sauce for the oyster fritters, or cucumber relish and green cabbage slaw for the crab cakes.
Like all the Savor the South series, Crabs & Oysters is written by an expert. Bill Smith is the chef at Crook’s Corner and grew up in eastern North Carolina, catching, shucking, and eating. He remembers the “crab factories” lining the river in New Bern in the 1950s where you could buy fresh-picked meat, or where you could drop a chicken neck in the water and catch your own. Smith remembers oysters as more of a gift, given by the bushel and saved up for a backyard oyster roast.
And for Southern flavor, Smith has turned to church and community cookbooks, which he calls the “true repositories of southern cooking culture.” Rather than sort the recipes by course, since many of the dishes suit for lunch or dinner or brunch, or are an event in themselves, he sorts them into hors d’oeuvres, sit-down first course, and either/or. “Fortunately,” he writes, “I didn’t discover any desserts using crabs or oysters…”.
After some fond memories, Smith moves through the health and safety warnings–basically, eat as fresh and reliable as possible. Then he takes on the truly herculean task of describing how to pick soft and hard shell crabs and how to shuck an oyster. Get a roll of paper towels and go for it.
Then eat! I was delighted to see a recipe for Cocktel–a cold Mexican seafood soup made with tangy tomato juice diced onions, peppers, and celery, and served with lots of crackers. I could eat this everyday in the summer. In the same school are two recipes for Michelada, a Mexican beer and tomato juice cocktail, spiked here with oysters or pushed over the top with a shot of mescal.
Something about crabs and oysters brings out the luxe–whether in an over the top cocktail or a carb bisque rich with cream, egg yolks, and milk. Or how about Oysters in Champagne–poached in reduced wine and served on the half shell. Fritters, aspic, remoulade, ravigotte–fun to say and eat.
So if you’re going to splurge, let Smith be your guide. His recipes are creatively researched and adapted to the home kitchen, by a chef who knows his way around the beach and the kitchen.