A crab in every pot

A mild winter, a bountiful catch, and a hearty stew

Photo By distilled, via flickr.

While ordinarily Henri tends to find himself taking the darker, more cynical view, this year’s mild winter has lifted his spirits appreciably, and he has faced some recent mornings with a disposition actually approaching sanguine, even agreeing with my dear sister that sometimes the decanter does truly seem half full.

For one thing, the milder weather has meant that the crab and fishing boats have been able to go out, and the selection at the Chico Fish Market (1141 Forest Ave., Ste. 10) has been very good.

We’ve also loved our weekly fair-weather visits to the Saturday-morning farmers’ market—the apples, melons, berries, cabbage, beets, beans and various greens have been wonderful. So we always stock up, never knowing exactly what we’re going to be using it all for.

And we’ve been cooking together, sharing recipes and playing what Colette calls the Pantry Challenge: Creating the very best meal you can with only the ingredients on hand. We’ve had some absolutely lovely salads, soups and stews and stumbled on some unlikely but quite workable pairings. Particularly delightful was a Romaine, chicken, bacon and roasted red pepper salad, dressed with almond slivers and light mustard vinaigrette, which Colette paired with an Anderson Valley pinot grigio.

Colette’s most successful creation, though, was a delicious winter stew, a sort of cioppino that she whipped up in about an hour, made with ingredients we had—though she did run to the market for the fish. She said it was a favorite of one of her husbands. She couldn’t remember which one—either the fireman in Marblehead, Mass., or the accordion player in Palm Beach, Fla. She’d never prepared it on the West Coast with Dungeness crab (which should be available until June), but we agreed it was absolutely divine, especially with a couple of bottles of Valpolicella, which I did happen to have on hand—but it would also be good with a sauvignon blanc or even a gewürztraminer.

Colette’s Quick and Spicy Crab Stew

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon chile flakes

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 medium onion, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

4 stalks celery, thinly sliced

2 cups chicken meat (cut into bite- sized pieces)

1 cup white wine

4 cups chicken stock

1 14-ounce can tomato sauce

8-12 mussels and/or clams, scrubbed

1 pound firm white fish (halibut, swordfish, snapper, cod, etc.) cut into two-inch chunks

8-10 large shrimp, shells and tails on

1 cleaned and cracked crab, legs sepa- rated and body cut into four pieces

2 precooked sausages (hot links, Italian, kielbasa, etc.), sliced

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven. Add the chile flakes, oregano, onion, peppers, celery and chicken, and sauté until chicken is nearly done (about 30 minutes). Add the white wine, bring to a boil, then add the stock and tomato sauce, and return it to a boil. As the broth warms, season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add the mussels/clams, fish, shrimp, crab and sausages, and cook on medium heat for 2-3 minutes or until the fish is cooked and the clams and mussels have opened. This should be just long enough to heat the crab.

Add the lemon juice and adjust the seasoning with more chile flakes, salt and pepper to taste. Serve with sourdough bread (torn, not sliced) and a generous supply of napkins.


1) For a fishier tasting stew, you can use fish stock instead of chicken broth, or add a tablespoon of fish sauce.

2) Keep in mind that, as with all soups and stews, you should feel free to improvise. Scour your pantry and refrigerator for possible ingredients, perhaps mushrooms, asparagus tips, stewed tomatoes, garbanzos, a bay leaf, or even okra for a touch of Louisiana. The stew would also be good over rice or a pasta such as linguini.