Cuban Crab Stew
A cure for winter...?
Oh, how the winter has slowed me down. Lately the grayness has made this city feel like a giant bowl of gluey overcooked oatmeal that I am struggling to slog through daily. Everyday things take a seemingly insurmountable level of energy to accomplish. Nearly everyday I spend at least an hour debating whether I should go to work or just stay home and sink into my over-sized couch until we become one.
The jury is still out for today. We'll see.
I've been wanting to get this recipe up for a while now. It's a cozy and comforting meal that still somehow manages not to feel delicate and light. It's full of bright flavors and a little Latin flair, making it the perfect dish to brighten up your winter nights. It would also make a lovely brunch dish, especially if topped with an egg. This quick stew-ish dish is meant to be served over what author Ana Sofia Pelaez calls “cornmeal stew” but is essentially grits. Some people might say it's essentially polenta. For me these are all three regional synonyms for the same basic idea. I haven't included the cornmeal stew recipe, but here are some interesting links if you need some grits assistance. Bon Appetit recently declared that the grits bowl is winter's answer to the grain bowl (SO on board with that), and Food52 has an article on cooking grits without a recipe. Check them out here:
So. This recipe is simple and quick, IF you have lump crab meat. That turned out to be a big if for me. I was having a hard time finding it fresh or frozen (DO NOT USE CANNED CRAB I REPEAT DO NOT USE CANNED CRAB IN THIS DISH), so I asked my Mama to pick some up on her way home. She has the seafood hookup, generally speaking, and I was planning on heading to her place to make dinner for the two of us. I got there first and began neurotically photographing vegetables (as is my way), and when Mama arrived she was carrying a rather large and rather alive crab. Well, that's Mama for you.
Mama took this as a teaching moment and took me out to her neighbor's fence post to show me how to bash the crab's face off just right, to rip off the top of it's “head” (if you can call it that) and kill it quickly. We then went back inside where she broke the creature into a couple pieces, plopped it into a big ol' bowl with it's legs still slowly moving (!!!), and then cooked it quickly in a big pot of boiling water. While I got the rest of the recipe together, Mama picked the crab meat out from the shell and went back through to carefully remove any tiny pieces of shell that might remain.
This whole experience was certainly fun, and if you happen to have a live crab, by all means follow suit. However, if you're like me trying to make your way through a giant bowl of cold oatmeal everyday, you might want to go another route. If you can't find lump crab meat at the store, cooked shrimp would be fabulous in it's place. Next time I make this dish I will probably pick up some cooked shrimp (peeled and deveined, of course) to toss in. If you happen to have left over halibut or other white fish, flake it in to medium pieces (nothing too tiny, it's nice to have some chunks for texture) and use that. Really any protein would be fine here, though seafood is especially lovely and will help transport you to a white sand beach when you close your eyes.
So there you have it. I made it through the oatmeal. I might even get dressed and go to work today.
Cheers from my imaginary white sand beach!
Cuban Crab Stew
by Ana Sofia Pelaez
¼ cup olive oil
1 green bell pepper, stemmed, cored, seeded, and diced
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, cored, seeded, and diced
1 medium white onion, diced
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
One 14.5oz can fire-roasted tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon Spanish paprika
¼ teaspoon ground celery seed
½ pound fresh (or frozen, thawed, but NOT canned) lump crab meat, well drained and very carefully picked through for shells -OR- ½ pound cooked shrimp (not bay), peeled and deveined, or ½ pound cooked white fish broke into chunks, or protein of your choosing
tabasco or hot sauce of choice
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the peppers, garlic, and onion, and saute until veggies are soft and onion is translucent, about 7 minutes. Add to the skillet: tomatoes, vinegar, bay leaf, salt, black pepper, paprika, and celery seed. Bring to a simmer and cook about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes begin to break down. Add the crab, or protein of your choosing, and cook until heated through, about 4-5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve in bowls over grits/polenta, with lime wedges and hot sauce along side. For more of a brunchy experience, put an egg on it. A poached egg would be divine here, but a simple fried egg would be heaven, too.