Thursday, March 5, 2009

Crab "Puppies"

When I had my restaurant in Aspen many years ago, I worked with a wonderful chef, Susan Sinnicks, who was from Charlotte, N. Carolina. She was talented, and being from the south, of course—very polite.

Despite this, she earned the nickname “salad bitch”—a name she wore proudly on a button she had made for her chef jacket. I also called her Miz Susan to tease her charming drawl.

One day Susan brought into work the “White Trash Cookbook”, a hilarious satire filled with recipes like “Cooter Pie.” First you take a live cooter [turtle] and wait for him to stick his head out from under his shell. When he does, you grab it …. and “Mock Cooter Pie”; and “Our Lord’s Scripture Cake”, and so on.

So I had to create a dish to honor Susan which became “Miz Susan’s White Trash Salad”. It had cornmeal breaded fried chicken on it and instead of croutons we added small crispy hushpuppies.

The salad was a huge hit! I had never made hushpuppies before—indeed at the time I didn’t even know what they were. So Susan made a batch, and wrote down a recipe right then out of her head that was perfect, addictive, and delicious.

Hushpuppies, as you may already know, are a southern side-dish commonly served with fish. They supposedly got their name when fishermen tossed pieces of fried batter to their hungry dogs (instead of the fried catfish) & said: “now--hush puppies”! I don’t know if that story is true, but it is a good story.

Later when I was working in Hollywood CA, as chef of the infamous Monkey Bar restaurant, I came up with an appetizer that was a cross between a hushpuppy and a crabcake that we named Crab “Puppies”.

This appetizer became one of the most popular on my menu. In fact one record producer used to drive up to the door and phone the front desk before he valeted his car, to make sure that we hadn’t yet sold out.

I used Miz Susan’s basic hushpuppy recipe, although I used a bit less black pepper and crushed red chilies, and I also added some cilantro, and of course Dungeness crabmeat. We served the Crab Puppies with a homemade Black Pepper Tartar Sauce, and a squeeze of lemon.

The other day I decided it was time to bring the appetizer back to my menu here at Pacific Grill. It has become a hit again, all these years later.

I love the way the sweet molasses and cornmeal play against the rich crab, cut by the heat of the chilies and pepper, brightened by a squeeze of lemon. The rich tartar sauce helps quench the tingling heat on your tongue, and you can’t help wanting to take another bite…

Tasting them again after all these years sure reminds me of Susan, her talent in the kitchen, generous smile and laugh, southern charm, and great hugs.


Steeno253 said...

So are the Crab Puppies available during happy hour or is it a dinner app?

ChefGordonNaccarato said...

You can get the Crab Puppies during Happy Hour, but they are not discounted [provided we are running them as a special that day]. They have been so popular we sell-out frequently...