West Indies

The city of Mobile, Alabama, has a world-class oyster bar, Wintzell’s Oyster House, downtown on Dauphin Street, where oysters are ‘fried, stewed, or nude’ and served at the bar, where one counter hand does nothing but open oysters as fast as the customers can eat them. The chef’s wife comes in every morning to make 30 gallons of gumbo, a deep, dark, spicy fish stew or soup, served with rice. There you will also find an authentic Mobile speciality, a marinated crab salad called simply ‘West Indies’. It is thought to have been introduced to Mobile about sixty years ago by a sea captain who used to fish the Caribbean waters. It is a light, summery dish, excellent as part of a buffet, and because it is sealed in a jar it could easily be transported to a picnic.

Ingredients

  • 500 g (1 lb) fresh chunky white crabmeat
  • 1 large sweet, mild onion, sliced
  • 75 mls (3 oz) grapeseed oil
  • 50 mls (2 oz) cider vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper
  • 6 ice cubes, crushed
  • Cos or Little Gem lettuce leaves
  • paprika
  • chopped parsley or chervil – for garnish

Method

In a 1 litre (2 pint) preserving jar, make several layers of crabmeat and onion. Whisk the oil, vinegar and seasoning together, and pour over the top. Cover the crabmeat with crushed ice, and seal the lid.

Refrigerate for 24 hours at least. Serve spooned onto Cos or Little Gem lettuce leaves, dust with the paprika, and decorate with the herbs. An alternative is 500 g (1 lb) cleaned and prepared squid which can be poached for 5 minutes. When cool enough to handle, slice into rings and layer with the onion. Scallops, queen scallops and shrimps can be prepared in the same way.

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