Recipes for a Serious Crabfest

Star chef Tom Douglas shares his recipes.

tom douglas recipes for crab fest
(Image credit: Courtesy of Macy's Great Gatherings)

The Party

When the weather heats up, invite friends over for an outdoor crab feed. Set the start time in the late afternoon, when it's still warm and light outside. Dress up the table with a colorful cloth topped with a length of butcher paper running down the center, and set out some colored pencils or crayons for kids (and adults) to color with. Arrange the food on a second table or a ledge, and serve the meal buffet style. Offer your guests bibs, along with hand towels moistened with water and a little lemon juice and warmed in the microwave.

The Food

The key to this menu is to have as much a possible prepared before the guests arrive: the fixings and the glasses for the margaritas on a tray, the salads ready to be dressed, the sweet potatoes on a baking sheets ready for roasting, the crab-roll salad make, the crab legs ready to be headed, the sauces in serving bowls, and the crisp either baked or set to go into the oven if you want to serve it warm.

Go Grilled

You don't need the grill for this menu, but firing it up will add flavor to the food and a focal point to the party. You can grill the corn for the salad, toast the buns for the crab rolls in a skillet placed on the grill grate, and heat the crab legs on the grill, shell side down to give them a little smoky flavor.

Easy Extras

"Squaw candy," chewy nuggets of hot-smoked salmon jerky, is one of Tom's favorite Pacific Northwest snacks. He likes to serve it as an hors d'oeuvre with a spread of equal parts cream cheese and fresh goat cheese or fromage blanc, along with crackers and bread. You can order it online from companies specializing in Northwest or Alaskan smoked seafood products.

Tom's Playlist

Van Morrison, Tupelo Honey

Backyard BBQ: BBQ the Blues

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Ella and Louis

Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces

Big Night, Original Soundtrack

King Crab Legs with Ginger Butter & Jalapeño Plum Sauce

"I love the Flintstonean quality of digging into a gigantic crab leg with your bare hands," says Tom. "In Seattle, we're used to luscious, juicy one-and-a-half-pounders." King crab is widely available as frozen cooked legs. Defrost them slowly in the refrigerator overnight. Tom's zippy dipping sauces can be made a day ahead and refrigerated. If you go this route, before serving, let the plum sauce come to room temperature, and heat the ginger butter until melted and warm. Give guests their own ramekin of each sauce, so no one has to worry about double-dipping.

Serves 6

Ginger Butter

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter

4 teaspoons peeled and grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon grated lime zest

2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

Jalapeño Plum Sauce

4 ripe plums (about 1 1/4 pounds total weight)

1 jalapeño chile, halved and seeded

1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 pounds cooked king crab legs, thawed if frozen

Lemon wedges for serving

To make the ginger butter, in a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the ginger and the lime zest and juice, stir well, and remove from the heat. Let stand for at least 30 minutes before serving.

To make the jalapeño plum sauce, preheat the broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Halve and pit the plums, and then cut each half into 3 or 4 wedges. Place the chile halves, skin side up, and the plum wedges on the prepared baking sheet.

Broil, rotating the pan once or twice for even cooking, for 7 to 8 minutes, or until the plums are oozing their juices and the chile skins are blackened and blistered. Remove from the broiler.

In a blender or food processor, process the plums to a smooth puree. Pour into a small bowl. Peel away and discard the blackened skin from the jalapeño halves, mince the flesh, and add to the plum puree along with the lime juice. Stir well and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To prepare the crab legs, preheat the oven to 350°F. With a sharp knife, cut each crab leg in half lengthwise through the shell. Arrange the legs, cut side up, on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the oven for 2 to 3 minutes, or until they are slightly warmed but still juicy. Don't heat them too long or they will toughen and dry out.

Transfer the crab legs to a platter. Serve the crab legs with the sauces and lemon wedges. 

tom douglas recipes for crab fest

(Image credit: Courtesy of Macy's Great Gatherings)

Oven-Fried Sweets

Here's an easy way to make crispy-creamy sweet potato "fries" in the oven. They're perfect with the creamy flavors of the crab rolls and the sweet-spicy sauces that go with the crab legs, and they're a big hit with kids. You can make them with either yellow sweet potatoes or garnet yams.

Serves 6

2 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 tablespoons olive oil

Position the oven racks in the upper and lower third of the oven and preheat to 450°F. Cut the sweet potatoes lengthwise into wedges 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick. If the potatoes are very long, you can cut them in half crosswise first, and then lengthwise into wedges. Put the wedges in a large bowl, season generously with salt and pepper, and then drizzle with the olive oil and toss to coat. Divide the wedges between 2 rimmed baking sheets, spreading them out in a single layer with space between them. If they are too tightly packed, they will steam rather than roast. Use a rubber spatula to scrape every bit of the oil out of the bowl and onto the potatoes.

Roast, turning the wedges over with a metal spatula halfway through the cooking time, for about 35 minutes, or until the potatoes are nicely browned and tender when tested with a knife. To ensure that the potatoes cook evenly, switch the pans between the racks and rotate the pans 180 degrees midway through cooking.

Remove the potatoes from the oven and pile them on a platter. Season again with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

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