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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Nori Squares with Crab, an Easy-to-Make Appetizer and Healthy Snack

On vacation for a week in Carlsbad, we enjoyed days without a set schedule. When to get out of bed? Maybe 7:30, or maybe not until 8:30. What time for a walk on the beach? Let's see when low tide is. We slept, ate, read, watched TV and went to the movies when we felt like it.

And we had great weather. Bright sunny skies. Temperatures in the upper 60's and low 70's. We discovered new places to eat, enjoyed our favorite coffee shop--Pannikin Coffee & Tea in Leucadia/Encinitas--and bought flowering plants and three blueberry bushes--that had ripe fruit on the branches!--from a great nursery, Cedros Gardens in Solana Beach.

What a great vacation.

When we wanted to hang around the room, with our mini-refrigerator, wet bar and the 2-burner electric stove top brought from home, we made salads, soups and snacks.

A favorite was a simple and delicious snack made with nori (seaweed) from Trader Joe's, broken rice from our lunch in Little Saigon at Pho Vinh Ky and  a ripe avocado from the Santa Monica farmers market.

With summer approaching, I can recommend this healthy snack. Combined with a tossed salad and fruit for dessert, the squares of nori and their toppings make for a very delicious, refreshingly light meal.
Nori Squares with Crab, Avocado and Rice

If you don't have fresh crab, the avocado and rice topping are delicious enough. If you want crab, I'd recommend the extra effort of steaming a live one. Next best is a freshly cooked crab from a fish market, which, hopefully, cooks their own. If they don't and the crabs arrive pre-cooked before they settle down on their icy bed in the display case, ask how long ago they were cooked.

Imitation crab (actually fish cakes) and canned or frozen crab aren't good for this dish.

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 whole Dungeness crab or 2 cups crab meat
1 package of nori, Trader Joe's carries a good one
1 whole, ripe avocado
1 cup freshly cooked rice
Olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
Cayenne (optional)
1/4 cup Italian parsley, washed, pat dried, leaves only, finely chopped (optional)

Directions for cooking the crab

When you bring home the live crab, place it in the kitchen sink, splashing it with cold water to wet the outer shell.

Put 3" of tap water into a large pot. Bring to a boil on high heat. Holding the crab from the back of the shell so the claws cannot reach you, push the head of the crab into the boiling water and hold down for a minute.

This isn't an easy part of the recipe. There's no getting around the fact that the crab has to die for you to eat well. If you're leaning towards becoming a vegan, this might push you over the line, so maybe look for pre-cooked crab. But I guarantee you, freshly steamed crab is a delicious taste treat.

You don't need much water in the pot. You definitely do not want to cover the crab with water. Mostly, the heat from the small amount of water steams the crab inside its shell. The resulting flavors are sweet and undiluted.

Place a lid on the pot and let cook 5 minutes.

Use tongs to remove the crab from the pot and let cool in the sink. If you don't mind a little extra work, do not throw out the water in the pot. I'll explain why in a moment.

Once the crab is cool to the touch, tear the legs off and place in a bowl. To clean the body of the crab, hold the shell in one hand and the body in your other hand. Pull and the shell will come off easily, releasing a lot of fairly unpleasant stuff.

You will now see that the crab has an outer and inner shell.

Wash the "stuff" off the outer shell and pull the gills off the inner shell. The gills are the feathery things hanging off the shell. Discard the outer shell and gills. Thoroughly rinse clean the sink and run the disposal.

On the inner shell, there is a long triangular part. Use a flat knife to lift it up, remove and discard it. Now break the inner shell in half. Use a sharp pairing knife to slide out the deliciously sweet meat from the chambers inside the shell. You may have to break open some of the chambers, but avoid doing that as much as possible so shell fragments do not end up with the meat.

Place the meat in an air tight container and refrigerate.

You can serve the legs and make your guests do the work or you can do everyone a big favor and remove the meat from the legs yourself. Personally, I think that's the way to go.

The legs are made up of three parts. Separate them from one another. There isn't any meat in the pointy-end parts. Cracking open the legs is relatively easy with your fingers. Only the two largest pincher claws require a nut cracker.

Use one of the pointy-end parts to dig out all the meat. Place in an airtight container and refrigerate.

The meat will last for two days. Whatever you don't use for the nori squares, use the next day in a tossed green salad or in a pasta.

Now, about all those shells. If you want to make a delicious broth, throw the shells into the boiling water and simmer for 45 minutes on a medium flame. The liquid will reduce by half. Strain out all the shells and discard. Let the crab stock cool and then refrigerate or freeze in an air tight container. The stock will last for months in the freezer. Defrost to use as a base for soups, braising liquid for seafood or pasta sauce.

Preparing the nori squares

Since the nori will absorb liquid, assemble the squares just before serving.

Toss the avocado slices with a little olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and black pepper. Have the cooked rice ready and slightly warmed. The crab can be chilled or room temperature.

For each square of nori, place a thin layer of warm rice, topped with a slice of avocado and a spoonful of crab. For heat, dust lightly with cayenne. For color, sprinkle a little finely chopped Italian parsley.

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