A simple crab cocktail with big flavor
To me, a great recipe for a romantic dinner, (or any dinner) should involve simplicity in the preparation and balance in the final flavor. When my friend and cookbook author Jill Silverman Hough showed me her recipe for a sent Five-Spice Crab Cocktail, I begged her to let me share it on the site. This recipe has it all. Not only is it an easy crab recipe to prepare and feature bold but balanced flavors but it also is a recipe layered with aphrodisiac ingredients. In fact, it has everything you would want from a romantic dinner.
The recipe was originally published in Jill’s book, 100 Perfect Pairings: Small Plates to Serve with Wines You Love. (If you’re looking for appetizer ideas or inspiration for tapas-style meals, I highly recommend you get the whole book.) This simple crab dish blends the flavors of fresh, lump crab meat with several of the “warming” spices. It is an unusual pairing and one that surprises and delights anyone who tries it. Best of all, you don’t even need cocktail sauce!
Can you make this recipe with canned crab?
The short answer is preferably not. Canned crab can be a great product. If you like seafood, I recommend keeping a can on hand. But in a recipe meant to showcase the delicate flavor of fresh crab like this one, trying to substitute with canned crab will never give you quite the fresh seafood taste you imagine. If possible, I recommend saving that can of crab to use in heavier dishes like quiche, soups and crab rangoon. However, if you don’t have access to a good fishmonger and canned crab is your only choice, this seafood cocktail will still make a tasty dish.
What is five-spice powder?
Five-spice powder is a spice blend most commonly found in Chinese and Taiwanese cooking. It is designed to awaken all five tastes, sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami all at the same time. You can make your own five-spice powder but you can also buy pre-blended, bottled five-spice powder in the spice section of your favorite grocery or Asian food store.
As you might already have guessed, I’m obsessed with the aphrodisiac qualities of Five-Spice Powder. (After all, it truly is a blend of five historically noted aphrodisiacs. These include cinnamon; star anise; fennel; black pepper and clove.) When used sparingly – and this spice blend is best used sparingly – its beautiful balance of sweetness and spice can transform ordinary ingredients like chicken or quinoa, or in this case, crab, into a complex, taste bud tingling, body warming masterwork of flavor.
Why you should serve this recipe on date night
In this crab recipe, Jill uses the aphrodisiac spice blend to bring a unique brightness and allure to steamed, lump crabmeat. (Like all crustaceans, crab is considered an aphrodisiac.)
Comments Jill, “If you’re looking for an elegant way to start a meal, look no further. These crab cocktails are super-simple to make. But because the recipe features an indulgent ingredient, crab, it feels sophisticated and special occasion. Ideally, I recommend using fresh crab from a good fishmonger. But canned crab will work as well if you can’t get great fresh crab.”
What wine do you pair with this seafood cocktail?
Incidentally, this recipe is from the Viognier chapter of 100 Perfect Pairings: Small Plates to Serve with Wines You Love. If you really want to bring the experience of this dish to life, pair it with a beautiful bottle of floral Viognier, like Raft Wines Jonquille.
Five-Spice Crab Cocktails
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tsp fresh lemon juice or more to taste
- 1/2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder plus more for garnish (see below)
- 12 oz cooked lump crab meat picked over
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley plus leaves for garnish
- 2 tbsp minced shallot
- In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice, and five-spice powder. Set aside. (You can prepare the mayonnaise mixture up to 3 days in advance, storing it covered in the refrigerator.)
- In a medium bowl, combine the crab, chopped parsley, and shallot. Add about 2 tablespoons of the mayonnaise mixture, gently tossing to combine. Taste, ideally with your wine, and add more lemon juice if you like.
- Spoon the crab mixture into decorative glasses. Top with the remaining mayonnaise mixture, dividing it evenly. Sprinkle with a dash of five-spice powder, garnish with the parsley leaves, and serve.
crab photo by Lucy Schaeffer
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