Tuesday, April 5, 2016

West Indies Salad

I love a good food story, especially when it has southern roots. I love it even better when it begins in Alabama.  Alabamians are some of the most creative and resourceful people in the country. From the green hills of north Alabama to the sandy beaches in the south, the people of Alabama have learned to use the resources available to them to express themselves creatively in every way possible and that includes food. Even when the creativity doesn't begin with food, somehow food manages to sneak its way in. Hank Williams took heartbreak and loneliness and turned them into songs for the world to sing. And he sang about jambalaya. Harper Lee and Truman Capote created characters and stories from their shared experiences in Monroeville. While Capote reminisced about the fruitcake made by his cousin, Sook, Lee described an Alabama Lane cake "so loaded with shinny" it made her character, Scout, "tight". Biologist George Washington Carver created more than three hundred ways to use the lowly peanut. When food and survival combine with Alabama's heat and humidity, creative things happen. Life in Alabama hasn't always been easy, but man, is it tasty!

In 1947, when Bill Bayley opened Bayley's Seafood Restaurant in Theodore, Alabama, he used the local products available to him and created dishes to serve to his customers. Bayley is credited with inventing two Alabama favorites, fried crab claws and his exotically named, West Indies salad. Today Bayley's son owns the restaurant and in this video, he talks about his father, the two iconic recipes and why he contirues to use only fresh, local seafood.

When I decided to try my hand at making West Indies salad, the biggest challenge I faced was finding blue crab that was not imported. I checked store after store only to find that the crab being sold was from far flung places like Vietnam and Indonesia. While I was unable to find crab from the Gulf of Mexico, I did find Atlantic US crab at Whole Foods. It was pricey, but worth it to me. I still do not understand why crab from halfway around the world is cheaper than crab caught off the coast of Alabama.                       

The ingredients for West Indies salad are few. Other than the crab, you need salt, pepper, ice water, cider vinegar, chopped sweet onion and oil. Most articles I have read say that Bill Bayley used Wesson oil. I used grapeseed oil because that is what I have. Do not use olive oil because it solidifies when it is refrigerated. 


The recipe and instructions are simple and exact. First, chop your sweet onion.


Break up the crab meat.


Place half the chopped onion in a glass or ceramic dish, top with the crab and sprinkle the remaining onion on top. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour the vinegar and oil over the top and finish with the ice water. Let the salad marinate in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Serve with fresh lemon and saltine crackers.

That's it! Easy, delicious and uniquely Alabama. 

West Indies Salad
1 pound lump or crab claw meat
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup ice water 
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste

Place 1/2 of the chopped onion in a glass or ceramic dish. Top with the crab. Put the remaining onion over the crab. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. In order, pour oil, then vinegar and finally ice water over the crab. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Serve with saltine crackers.

Three Friends and a Fork
Three Friends and a Fork

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