My wife and I, both restaurant chefs who have abruptly lost our jobs, have been living for more than a month soberly and devoutly conserving our resources. You could mistake us for back-to-the-land homesteaders. I gave her a haircut, and she sprouted the scallions on the windowsill. I’ve learned to make the cottony Kaiser rolls my kids love that we usually buy from the deli. She has rigged the dining-room maple table into a hacked Ping-Pong surface for our nightly tournament because even movie rentals for $4.99 seem irresponsible. So I hope it will make sense why, recently, I went out and spent $56 on a tub of fresh-picked crab meat.
It was flat-out reckless, but I did it. You know when you’ve just been so good for so long and then you’re like, I need a new pair of shoes, and you impulsively go online and order a fresh pair of kicks — in three colors? It was like that. Outside, the daffodils and the dogwoods were exploding and we were desperate to emerge from our long hibernation, but instead we had to keep the windows closed and the television on. Maybe it was a fit of optimism, but more likely a belligerent, hissy-fit rejection of chickpeas on yet another unbearable day. I laid a bottle of Bisson rosé in the fridge, browned some butter and piled a whole pound of jumbo lump crab meat — that fresh, sweet, saline manna of the sea gods — onto slices of nutty, lemony, brown-butter toast, and boiled an entire bunch of asparagus to accompany it. We ate the light spring supper of our freaking dreams.
We are an uncommonly sturdy group around here, but there have been a couple of moments when one of us has felt as if there was no soldiering on. Followed immediately by defiance: Well, if this is going to be my end, then I am checking out on a blissful pound of fresh crab meat and leaving my utility bills unpaid! These toasts, though, made me feel as if I might live to see another day. As if a shot of vitamin D went coursing through my veins.
I can’t escape my morbid thoughts — none of us can, or should — but then you have to make some decisions based on the long brooding. For me, a pound of fresh peekytoe crab meat is the way to go. If anyone else has reached the end of your legume-and-pantry-staples ropes, and you need a little devilish nudge, I’m your girl. Just make this!
Uncharacteristic for me — I’m usually the no-substitutions and do-exactly-as-I-say chef in these pages — I’m suggesting and even condoning alternatives to the $56-a-pound crab meat, which can be hard to find, even without a pandemic. This will also be delicious with the $35 can or tub of pasteurized crab meat you can sometimes find in the refrigerated case. You may well spot some claw-meat options there too, which cost even less. But stay out of the shelf-stabilized canned-fish aisle, where you’ll see something called “crab meat.” This whole rebellious enterprise is about bringing you back to life, not crushing your already-fragile soul. If it’s imitation crab meat or nothing where you are, then I’d switch completely to smoked whitefish from the deli, or canned sardines and kippers.
But if you can swing it, you gently and barely mix together the sweet meat with a little spoonful of sour cream or crème fraîche. Don’t use mayonnaise; it’s a fat that obscures the tender, sweet crab flavor, whereas a blob of dairy — even a small dab of cream cheese or a splash of heavy cream — works in concert with the sweetness of the crab meat, amplifying it. No chives? Substitute with a minced shallot, or a super thinly sliced scallion; if you live in a rural setting, you know that the onion grass that tufts in the backyard is perfect for this. Go out back with a pair of scissors and cut a fistful.
We can all giggle together one day in the hopefully not-too-distant future at the fact that this usually rigid columnist was lavishly laissez-faire this one time. Meanwhile, I’ll be eyeing the big jars of loose change we have around here, the ones we used to carelessly empty our pockets into at night, and imagining what we’d do with the dollar bills we’d have if we ventured out to a Coinstar machine that would gargle the coins in its mechanical throat, dreaming up another extravagance I might urge you to cook next.