I don’t like turkey very much. I mean, if it’s all there is I’ll eat a little, but I don’t crave it. I don’t sit around all year daydreaming about Thanksgiving turkey. When the ads for them start I actually make this face where I jack up my top lip on one side–kind of like I just smelled an unexpected and absolutely raucous fart. So, turkey is not on the menu at our house for Thanksgiving. Here’s what are we doing instead for our turkey-free holiday.
Apparently I’m not the only cat on the block who dislikes turkey–I found this graphic online and just had to include it in this post!
We’re a tiny family of two people, my son and I. He has a girlfriend but she is spending the Thanksgiving holiday with her family since they are letting her go to Orlando with us for Christmas
. So, we only have to please the two of us. Every year we usually do something special for our meal, and this year’s selection is crab. Alaskan king crab legs, crab cakes, and arugula salad. That’s the menu! That’ll be plenty for the two of us, and we both love crab meat. We’ll feast on that Thanksgiving day, then on Black Friday we’ll have his girlfriend over for another feast of, tentatively, crab alfredo. Here’s everything you’ll need to join us in a turkey-free holiday!
A Maryland blue crab.
Lump crab meat typically comes from Maryland blue crabs. I get my lump crab meat from Blue Crab Trading. The reason I do that is because the crab meat you can find in North Carolina and in most grocery stores across the country is all pasteurized, and that’s not as good as fresh crab meat. Pasteurized means it’s been cooked already, and that definitely subtracts from the flavor. In a pinch it will do, but I’d much rather have fresh. And hey, it’s only once a year. Fresh is more expensive (fresh lump crab meat is about $32 a pound, jumbo lump crab meat is about $43 a pound, claw and backfin meat is typically about $22 a pound), but again, it’s just once a year.
Could this be a photograph of the actual king crab I’ll be eating for Thanksgiving dinner?
The crab legs come frozen from Alaska, and the ones I ordered are from the king crab. Blue Crab Trading had the colossal size king crab legs on special so I ordered 4 pounds of those. The colossal ones average about a pound per leg. Dang that’s big. I’d hate to see one of those king crabs coming at me underwater, even though I know they are not dangerous!
For a less expensive option, you can get snow crab legs, which are smaller and more labor-intensive to work with in terms of extracting the meat.
Two pounds of lump crab meat, four pounds of crab legs, plus shipping and handling and everything was $195. That’s a lot to spend, but it will make at least two meals (or maybe I should say feasts?) And, I’m not doing a ton of sides or snacks–like I said, it’s crab, it’s salad, and that’s the fare for Thanksgiving. The salad will cost me about $10 to make. So, I’m splurging on crab.
How to Prepare King Crab Legs
King crab meat is so sweet and luscious on its own that all you really need to do is cook the legs. No seasoning required, no fancy preparation necessary. A butcher taught me a few years ago that the easiest way to prepare them is to roast them in the oven. You don’t have to dirty up a big stock pot for boiling, and that’s always a good thing if you hate to wash dishes like I do. I’ll thaw the legs in the refrigerator, then roast them in a 400 degree oven for about 6 minutes.
I’ll serve the crab legs with some melted butter (Irish, of course!). No, I don’t do clarified butter. What a buncha’ work just to be fancy about it, and I’m not about that kind of effort. But, if you want clarified butter, here’s the recipe, just click here.
We also love love love good homemade cocktail sauce. This is my favorite recipe from Alton Brown at www.foodnetwork.com:
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 cup prepared chili sauce
4 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon sugar
Few grinds fresh black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sprinkle Old Bay seasoning
Combine all ingredients in a food processor. If it’s not spicy enough, add more horseradish one half teaspoon at a time until you get enough fire in it!
What to Do with Lump Crab Meat: Crab Cakes
Paula Deen’s crab cake.
My son specifically requested crab cakes, and I am happy to oblige. I love a really good crab cake! My very favorite recipe is from Paula Deen.
1 pound crab meat, picked free of shells
1/3 cup crushed crackers (recommended: Ritz)
3 green onions (green and white parts), finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped bell pepper
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
Dash cayenne pepper
Flour, for dusting
1/2 cup peanut oil
Favorite dipping sauce, for serving
I strongly recommend four things here:
- Use the Ritz crackers, don’t substitute any other crackers for this!
- Use red bell pepper instead of green for a sweeter taste and for a nice splash of color in the mixture.
- If you have time, make homemade mayonnaise. It is so much better than the stuff from the jar, and you can see my recipe for it here.
- Don’t skimp on the oil–buy peanut oil and use it. Don’t fry in anything else.
In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients, except for the flour and peanut oil. Shape into patties and dust with flour.
One thing to note is that the mixture is going to be very loose, because it is mostly crab meat. Some crab cake recipes are so full of breading and fillers that you end up with about 50% crab and 50% breading. Not this recipe–it is all crab, with just enough cracker crumbs and mayo to hold it all together. If you are having trouble getting the cakes to stick together, refrigerate the mixture until it’s very cold and then shape the patties. If you’re still having trouble add a couple of tablespoons of cracker crumbs to tighten up the mixture.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, carefully place crab cakes, in batches, in pan and fry until browned, about 4 to 5 minutes. Carefully flip crab cakes and fry on other side until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Serve warm with preferred sauce, which for us is will also be cocktail sauce as described above. You could also use tartar sauce but I prefer a nice homemade remoulade. Click here for a tartar sauce recipe. Click here for a remoulade recipe. In both cases, again, I recommend homemade mayonnaise.
What to Do With Lump Crab Meat: Crab Alfredo
My son wants us to have a second Thanksgiving dinner with his girlfriend the day after the holiday, and I’m all for doing that. He suggested a crab alfredo, and I’m good with that! All that requires is to make a nice Alfredo sauce, then gently fold in some of the crab meat. Here’s a sweet recipe for that from Chef Geoffrey Zakarian:
4 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Pinch grated nutmeg
2 1/2 cups whole milk, warmed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces dried fettuccine
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1/4 cup finely minced fresh parsley
For the bechamel: In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium flame. Add the flour and whisk until the texture of wet sand is achieved. Lower the heat to low, add the nutmeg and cloves and cook for 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the whole milk and bring the sauce to a simmer. Cook for 3 minutes, season with salt and pepper and set aside.
For the fettuccine alfredo: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season with salt. Add the pasta and begin to cook.
Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Cook the shallots and garlic until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the bechamel sauce, along with 1 cup of the pasta water.
When the pasta is 80 percent cooked, add it to the saute pan and simmer until the sauce is thickened and the pasta is al dente. Toss with the cheeses and parsley, and season with salt and pepper.
This recipe makes four servings, so I suggest 3/4 to a full pound of crab meat for it. Gently fold it in so you don’t break up the crab meat lumps, and simmer for another 2 to 3 minutes until the crab is done. (If you’re using pasteurized crab meat, you just have to get it warm, since it’s already cooked).
With all the rich crab meat, we need some lighter fare! My son is not crazy about salad, except for arugula salad. He loves it, so I serve it to get some vegetables in his stomach. I’ve grown rather fond of it myself. It’s easy to make, and unlike iceberg lettuce it has some nutritional value to it.
- shallot vinaigrette salad dressing
- 1 package of baby arugula
- 1 package of Campari tomatoes, cut into fourths.
- 1/2 cup of pine nuts
- 1/2 cup crumbled feta or goat cheese, or, finely shaved parmesan cheese
To make the vinaigrette, finely mince a large shallot. Combine with the juice of two lemons and a teaspoon of salt. Add 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar or champagne vinegar, several grinds of fresh black pepper, and then whisk in 1/2 cup of very good olive oil. Make this at least 24 hours in advance so the flavors have time to blend.
Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan over medium heat, just until they are fragrant. Be careful–they burn fast! Don’t take your eyes off the pine nuts while cooking.
To make the croutons, preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Get some day-old bread, cut it into cubes. Put the bread in a gallon ziplock bag and drizzle in some good quality olive oil. Put in a generous amount of salt (maybe 2 teaspoons) and fresh ground black pepper. You can also add 1/4 cup of finely minced herbs (rosemary and parsley would be good, but you can use anything) and/or a couple teaspoons of granulated garlic. Close the bag and shake like crazy to get the oil spread around and the seasonings distributed. Spread them out on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Check them to see if they are nice and dry and crispy. If not, bake for another 15 minutes and check again. Keep baking until they are to your liking.
Assemble the salad:
Toss the arugula with enough of the dressing to coat all the leaves. Put it on a serving platter or in a bowl. Top with the tomatoes, pine nuts, croutons, and cheese if you have opted to include cheese. I usually don’t include because my son isn’t crazy about cheese (which makes me wonder if he’s really mine?)
So there you have it… our Thanksgiving menu! I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as we do. There is the possibility that I will include a dessert, but that is yet to be determined….
I am pleased to report that everything turned out great. The only “complaint” is that I bought entirely too much crab meat for two people and now I’ve got to get creative about how to use it up before it gets old. The crab alfredo was a huge hit, it was really delicious and rich and my son and his girlfriend absolutely loved it. I did end up doing dessert, making the key lime dessert shooters described here. They turned out amazing, although I think a sprinkle of coconut in the layers might be a nice addition next time.