Preserving family recipes goes beyond collecting and deciphering faded handwritten notes or stained and splattered index cards and patching together these bits and pieces of the past into legible lists of ingredients and sensible instructions. The process also includes the more meaningful task of tracing the recipe’s origin back to a special person or place in time then tying all the elements together with a string of well-told stories punctuated with lots of passion and pride (as well as the occasional reference to a crazy relative or catastrophic kitchen mishap). It’s these associations that remind us of experiences long forgotten and keep us connected to those who have moved away or passed on.
As most of you know, this exercise is the driving force behind Raised on Roux. It’s one I perform frequently and diligently. And what I love most about the process, aside from preparing and sharing wonderful food that’s near and dear to me, is uncovering new nuggets of information on old family favorites. Such was the case last week when I set out to make Crabmeat on Toast.
I am a third generation Crabmeat-on-Toast-maker. Grandma, my late maternal great-grandmother, created the recipe. She prepared it quite often and for no particular occasion. So too did my mom. However, her reliance on this dish was more of a necessity having to feed a family of five primarily from the picking box of my shrimper dad’s Lafitte skiff. In both houses, the dish was a humble weeknight meal that just so happened to be made with some of the finest seafood around. Such is the life of a fisherman’s family.
Until last week, that’s all I had to share on our little gem of a recipe. But as I began to process the recipe to post, I realized there were certain questions I had never asked. Like what inspired Grandma to make this dish and why didn’t my grandparents ever take any interest in preparing it. I turned to my mom for answers. Fortunately, she recalled that Crabmeat on Toast was my great-grandmother’s best attempt at recreating a dish she had enjoyed many moons ago while dining out at the original Delmonico. Delmonico was an old Creole restaurant located on St. Charles Avenue. In the 1990s, Chef Emeril Lagasse bought the century-old establishment, blessed it with a little “BAM!!!” and renamed it Emeril’s Delmonico.
As soon as I hung up the phone, I ran to my copy of the Emeril’s Delmonico cookbook (I don’t think the original restaurant ever published a cookbook) and began rifling through it looking for a recipe that even remotely resembled Grandma’s Crabmeat on Toast. I found nothing. Not surprising, considering Emeril’s revamped offerings. Relying on the fact that the grand dames of New Orleans Creole cuisine have always had similar menus, I then turned to a handful of other restaurant cookbooks in my collection. In both the Brennan’s New Orleans Cookbook and the Galatoire’s Cookbook I came across recipes for “Canapé Lorenzo.” Canapé Lorenzo calls for “giant lumps of sweet, succulent white crabmeat lightly bound together” with a traditional Béchamel sauce studded with green onions and seasoned with cayenne pepper. In both instances, the crabmeat mixture is served on “toast circles.” Anchovy fillet garnishes aside, all three recipes are very similar which makes me confident that “Canapé Lorenzo” was the source of Grandma’s inspiration. A rather neat discovery. And as for that skipped generation of Crabmeat-on-Toast-makers? Well, according to Mom, there really was no reason for her parents to fuss with this dish considering they were sandwiched between two generations of ambitious cooks who were always making it.
Crabmeat on Toast can be prepared as either a main course, appetizer or finger food. When presenting it as a main course, serve it in the manner described in the recipe. For an appetizer, simply reduce the serving size to two toast triangles. And for a party finger food, prepare and serve the crabmeat mixture in cute little toast baskets—those same fun vessels I use to make my Spicy Crawfish Baskets.
Crabmeat on Toast Recipe
1 stick butter
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons gravy flour (I use Wondra)
1 cup half-and-half
1 pound lump crabmeat, picked over
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and black pepper to taste
12 slices white bread, lightly toasted, crusts trimmed
each sliced into 2 triangles
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add green onions and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until tender, 3-5 minutes. Gradually sprinkle in flour stirring constantly until the raw flour smell is gone, about 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in half-and-half. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in crabmeat, parsley and cayenne pepper. Season to taste with salt and black pepper Cook until crabmeat is heated through. To serve, place four toast triangles on each plate and spoon even amounts of crabmeat mixture on top. Makes 6 servings.
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