The very name makes my mouth water.
West Indies Salad. So simple, yet so brilliant. It’s the perfect summer luncheon meal. West Indies Salad on a bed of spring mix centered on delicate china plate makes me sit up straighter. It’s best eaten while wearing a sweet sundress or ladylike A-line shift with heels.
This dish is mostly associated with Mobile. Sources will tell you it originated there, and I will not dispute that. But to avoid a spat such as the one that still simmers over the birthplace of Mardi Gras in the New World, I will not take any sides on that matter.
My introduction to West Indies Salad came when I was a child, although I didn’t know it. My Great-aunt Inez did a lot of entertaining in her home and a little catering on the side. She was addicted to shellfish in general and shrimp and crabmeat specifically. Every summer she whipped up several batches of what she called Fresh Crab Salad — essentially West Indies Salad. She would place a scoop on a slight bed of salad greens, then surround it with “darling food” such as almond-stuffed green olives, very petite sweet pickles, pickled okra, slices of cantaloupe and tiny, tiny ears of corn. Sometimes she’d add a spoonful of capers. Saltines were in a crystal dish nearby.
This salad does not scoop like mayo-based chicken or tuna salad. It’s very flaky and, because there’s no mayo, it won’t clump, so you won’t wind up with a perfect round ball. A salad set works well for plating it.
When I have a craving for West Indies Salad at a Mobile restaurant, I head to Wintzell’s Oyster House (the downtown one).
This recipe is from “Picnic with the Baldwin Pops,” published by the Baldwin Pops Band of Baldwin County, Ala. (Fairhope). This cookbook says West Indies Crab Salad “was first served at Bailey’s (Bayley’s) Restaurant, on the way to Dauphin Island.”
WEST INDIES CRAB SALAD
- 1 pound fresh, not frozen, lump white crabmeat
- 1/2 cup white vinegar
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil (safflower oil is good)
- 1/2 cup ice water (NOTE: for a stronger vinegar flavor, substitute additional 2 tablespoons white vinegar in place of 2 tablespoons of the ice water)
- 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Use fingers to remove and discard any shell in the crabmeat. Combine all ingredients, cover tightly, and marinate in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours. Serve cold in cocktail dishes with cocktail forks or in cups with salad forks.
If you make West Indies Crab Salad quickly after buying the crabmeat, it should last three to four days in the refrigerator.
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