It’s funny how recipes are developed. At least in my house. This one came out of the fateful collision between the opening of crab season and a few scenes in a bad Woody Allen movie.
Let me explain.
Crab season always opens just before Thanksgiving when everyone is busy with turkey, stuffing, gravy and mashed potatoes. Every year, I rush past the fish counter as I do my Thanksgiving shopping, wink at the piles of crab, and promise them I’ll get to them as soon as I can.
The Saturday after Thanksgiving I was watching Whatever Works, Woody Allen’s second to latest movie. The one with Larry David. It wasn’t very good, but I was smitten by the grits one of the characters kept making throughout the movie. They just sounded so good. At the same time, in the part of my brain reserved for menu planning, I was chewing over a menu for a friend’s birthday dinner the next night. I wanted something special. Something extra seasonal. I wanted crab. But I wanted to do more than just throw it on the table with some melted butter and an empty bowl for the shells.
I went to bed with those thoughts stewing. I woke up and shouted (silently) “Spicy Crab and Grits like they do at Hibiscus!” It had all come together in my sleep.
I needed a recipe, or at least an idea, so I started googling around. Nothing except a blog post about the dish from my pal Molly Watson. I sent her an email outlining my idea for recreating the dish to see what she thought. After reminding me about the green onions, she confirmed that I was probably on the right track.
As soon as I took the first bite, I knew I had it. It was absolutely sublime and so so easy. Here’s how I did it. I ended up using polenta because I couldn’t find grits at Market Hall. And ARE they the same thing? There’s so much conflicting information out there, I decided I didn’t care. I also tried making polenta in the oven for the first time and I’ll never ever go back to the stovetop. I gleaned the method I used from this post on chowhound.
This is a terrible picture, but trust me, it’s good
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup polenta
1/4 cup heavy cream
A helluva lot of butter (I’m not sure how much I used. More than a half stick and less than a whole stick)
1 small shallot, cut into a miniscule dice
1/3 of a celery rib, cut into a miniscule dice
About 2 teaspoons good quality spicy ground chile of your choice to your taste (I used a mix of good cayenne, Aleppo, and piment d’Espelette)
About 1 1/2 cups of picked crab meat
3 green onions (white and green parts), chopped fine
Preheat the oven to 375. Combine the water, salt and polenta in a heavy baking dish with a lid. Stir together. Pop it in the oven. Remove from the oven and stir every 15 minutes, cooking for a total of 45 minutes. Turn off the oven, stir in the heavy cream, and return the polenta to the hot oven while you prepare the crab.
In a heavy skillet over medium heat, warm the butter. Add the shallot and celery and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the chile, crab, green onions, and a little salt if you need it (crab can be salty) and stir to warm through. Add more butter if you like.
To serve, spoon the polenta onto warmed plates or shallow bowls. Top with crab mixture, dividing it evenly. Dig in and swoon.