Yesterday we had dinner with my parents, and quite the meal it was. I wasn't 100% sure why we'd opted for an Easter Monday dinner instead of an Easter dinner proper, but later I pieced together that at least part of the reason had to do with the fact that I was born 30-some-odd years ago on Easter Monday (I've never actually gone back to verify this story, but that's what I'm told), although not on the 17th of April. Fittingly, I suppose, our Easter Monday meal had three parts to it.
1. By now some of you out there are probably rolling your eyes at yet another mention of artichokes, but what can we say? The artichokes have been beautiful and plentiful this year, and they've rarely tasted better to us. So good, in fact, that we had them three times last week and I could have easily had them again tonight. As promised, I went looking for some more purple Sicilian artichokes just as soon as I could last week, but I came up empty. I'm not sure if some of you "...an endless banquet" readers out there beat me to the punch, or if they just didn't come in this week, but when I couldn't mind those lovely purple artichokes I sure was happy to see that both Chez Nino and Chez Louis had plenty of baby artichokes. We had some on Sunday and on Monday, and both times we simmered them for 20-30 minutes, then served them with my homemade mayonnaise.
2. I've mentioned this before, but for years I was convinced that Montreal just wasn't a crab town. Having grown up in not one but two of North America's premier crab-harvesting and crab-eating regions--the San Francisco Bay Area and the Chesapeake Bay region--this has always been a source of concern to me. Life without the occasional crab feast is a life that I'm not sure I'm willing to live. Few meals generate the sense of communion that a crab feast does. It's got something with the time it takes, the way the meal rewards those with patience, the simplicity and, frankly, the indelicate nature of the whole affair, and the way good crab inspires states of near-ecstasy. When you live with cats and have the added feature of seeing them circle the table wildly in search of any scraps that might fall to the floor, the experience is compounded. Michelle had never had fresh, quality crab until our trip to San Francisco last summer. Having Dungeness crab (even if it had been brought in from Washington) was just one of the revelations Michelle experienced on that trip, but it was hardly an insignificant one. Not being the season for local Dungeness crab, however, we didn't have the luxury of buying quantities of crab, so Michelle was none the wiser when it came to the joys of the crab feast. Of course, we could have had a crab feast right here in Montreal last year, but we'd squandered a golden opportunity. You see, one of the bonuses that came with the grand opening of Jean-Talon Market's new pavilion last year (as you may remember, we definitely had mixed feelings about this new addition at the time, although, in retrospect, there's no question that the pluses have far outweighed the minuses since) was that all of a sudden we found out that Quebec had an indigenous crab--the Snow Crab--that came from the Gaspé region, and that nothing was stopping Montreal from becoming a crab town. Unfortunately, we were so unprepared for this discovery and the Snow Crab season was so short (2 months) that, before we knew it, the moment had passed.
We were not about to make the same mistake this year. To date we've already been to the LIVE CRAB stand twice this year. Once, just to run a quality assurance test and make sure these Quebecois Snow Crabs were up to snuff--they were, and I used the meat to make a very fetching pasta with crab, asparagus, and peas dish [recipe soon to follow]--and a second time, yesterday, to have a full-on crab feast. If you've yet to try them, these Snow Crabs are a true delicacy. They have long, spidery legs, not unlike an Alaskan King crab, but because they're so much smaller than their Alaskan brethren, they require a fair bit more work, a fair bit more patience in order to get at every last delicious morsel. The flesh is remarkably sweet, with a delicate brininess to it, and really it requires no accompaniment at all. No butter, no nothing. Inspired by a shrimp appetizer that was prepared for us by Philippe de Vienne a couple of months ago, I made a New Orleans-style remoulade, and used it with every 4th or 5th bite of crab. The combination was fantastic, and if I were to make some Crab Rolls for a party or something, I think I'd definitely enlist the services of that remoulade, but, like I said, that Snow Crab meat was just fine on its own. More than fine, actually. Heavenly.*
Michelle looked like a kid in a candy store. The crab feast was definitely her kind of meal: leisurely, a bit finicky even, the kind of meal that rewards those with an attention to detail with an enormous payoff. Little did she know that the fun was far from over.
3. The third and final part of our Easter Monday meal was a definitive Caesar. You may remember that we ran a feature on Caesar Salad, including its lore and its place within my personal history, last year. There, we printed the Caesar Salad recipe that's been the standard in my family for some 35 years or so: Salade Caesar à la Terry. As I mentioned at the time, this was a classic recipe, a recipe true to that Ur-Caesar created in Tijuana some 80+ years ago. Maybe not exactly Cesare "Caesar" Cardini's original, but something that was at the very least faithful. Turns out I was right. A couple of weeks ago we watched an old episode of local food celebrity Josée Di Stasio's TV show from the "à la Di Stasio" DVD box set. The topic of that particular episode was real Mexican cuisine and the featured guest was none other than Philippe de Vienne. Somewhat cheekily, De Vienne included a recipe for Caesar Salad on his Mexican menu for that day, and he claimed that this Caesar Salad was in fact the recipe for Caesar Salad, Caesar Cardini's original. You'll notice that it's very close to Salade Caesar à la Terry, with one crucial difference. De Vienne claims that lime juice, not lemon juice, was the touch that gave Cardini's salad a little taste of Tijuana and his claim makes perfect sense. Better yet, the lime juice truly elevates the Caesar Salad, making it taste lighter, fresher, more spritely. Looking for the perfect Caesar? The key = lime.
Caesar Salad à la Caesar Cardini
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced or pressed
6 anchovy filets
1 tbsp lime juice
1 dash Worcestershire sauce
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup Parmesan, freshly grated
freshly ground black pepper
8 slices of day-old baguette rubbed with garlic
Crush the garlic and the anchovy filets in the base of a wooden bowl with a wooden spoon. Add the lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, and egg and mix well. Add the olive oil in a steady stream stirring all the while. Wash and gently dry your Romaine lettuce leaves, then coarsely chop them. Toss them in the dressing, making sure the dressing coats the lettuce leaves relatively evenly. Add the Parmesan and toss once more. Season with black pepper to taste. Toss in a tablespoon or so of capers. Serve each portion with 2 slices of baguette.
Everyone was ecstatic about this recipe. Michelle was particularly impressed. She promptly announced that this was the very best Caesar she'd ever had. Hands down. I'm still devoted to Salade Caesar à la Terry, but I'm sure I'll be making my Caesars with lime juice from now on more often than not.
You can find live crab at the Atkins Frères LIVE CRAB stand at Jean-Talon Market Friday, Saturday, and Sunday until mid- to late-May.
*"No picture of the crab?," you say. That's how good that crab was. It would have been a travesty to try to represent it photographically.