Jaiba Feliz (Happy Crab)

Having been born under the astrological sign of Cancer, I tend to be crabby. I also love crab. So when we moved to Zihuatanejo and I saw a restaurant named "Jaiba Feliz," which means happy crab, I walked in with a smile on my face ready to savor a jaiba tostada (crab tostada) or ensalada de jaiba (crab salad).

With a name like happy crab and the fact that we were living on the Pacific Ocean, I knew this place was going to be filled with wonderful seafood, especially crab.

Much to my dismay, there was no crab on the menu--not even one dish. In my pitiful Spanish (remember, we had just arrived), I told them they should change the name to "Jaiba Triste," which means sad crab and stormed out never to return again.

Yes, I get a little emotional over food, especially when the restaurant name is incongruous to the menu. Why call something a "tavern" when it doesn't have tavern food? Should a bistro serve Mexican food?

Fortunately, a few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal's Off Duty section of Slow Food Fast featured a delectable crab salad with avocado by Susan Spicer, a New Orleans chef. Even though I have never been to New Orleans, I have been a fan of Susan's culinary work for years. She is a proponent of the slow food movement (farm to table) and has two restaurants in the city, Bayona and Mondo, both of which are heavy on seafood.

This crab salad recipe she shares was on her original menu in 1982 when she opened her first restaurant, Savoir Faire, and still makes appearances on her menu at Bayona, the fine-dining restaurant that opened in 1990.

What struck me most about this dish is that, even 32 years after it first appeared, it still remains relevant. That's what happens when you use the best ingredients and prepare them simply.

And that makes this jaiba feliz.

Buen provecho!
Crab Salad with Avocado
The Cowgirl Gourmet encountered this recipe in the March 22, 2014, issue of Wall Street Journal's Off Duty

Print recipe

All you need a jumbo lump crabmeat and a few staples to make this exquisite and light salad. I love that it is dressed with a vinaigrette, which makes it even more attractive, healthy and delectable. This would be a perfect entree for a ladies luncheon or a tantalizing salad for a dinner party. If this is a starter, imagine what's to follow.

Makes 4 salads or 2 entrees

1/2 cup finely diced carrots
2 limes
1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium shallot, minced
Kosher salt, to taste
Tabasco, to taste
3 tablespoons roughly chopped basil, plus sprigs for garnish
1/2 bunch scallions, white and pale green parts only, finely sliced
12 ounces jumbo lump crabmeat, shell fragments removed
2 tablespoons chopped capers
2 avocados, peeled, pitted and sliced lengthwise (about half an avocado per person)
Microgreens or sunflower sprouts, optional garnish

Blanch carrots: Fill a glass 3-cup measuring cup with ice and cold water. Set a small saucepan of water over high heat. When the water boils, add carrots and blanch for 30 seconds. Drain carrots and plunge into ice bath. Allow the carrots to remain in the water while you continue making the salad.
To make the lime vinaigrette, zest 1 lime into a small bowl and then juice both limes into the bowl with zest. Whisk in vinegar, oil and shallots. Season with salt and Tabasco to taste.
In a medium bowl, toss together basil, scallions, crabmeat, carrots and capers. Spoon in half of the lime vinaigrette and gently fold everything together to coat the ingredients.
Spoon the crabmeat salad onto the plates, garnish each plate with approximately half a sliced avocado and a basil sprig. Lightly spoon a bit more vinaigrette over the avocados, sprinkle with Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Garnish with microgreens or sunflower sprouts.

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