Spring used to come in like a lion 'round these parts, but mostly it just arrives in fits and starts these days, feinting and dodging, teasing and mocking. Sure, you'll get some warm, toasty days every now and then, but there's sure to be a few bitterly cold days (and nights), too. And like our friend at the dépanneur down the street says, "You can't be sure of anything until May 15." And even then...
fig. a: printemps québécois
Anyway, signs of spring usually begin sometime in March in Montreal (like most places in the Northern Hemisphere), but, foodwise, it takes a while to see a whole lot of rebirth going on. With the exception of maple syrup, most of our spring flavours tend to show up in May and June.
Which is why snow crab is of such importance to people like us. Not only are we enormous fans of crabmeat, but snow crabs are one of the earliest spring arrivals, and snow crab season is really the only time of the year we can get fresh, live, and regional crab here in Montreal. Officially, the season is said to last from April to November, but our experience has been that in actual fact it's a very short season, lasting no more than about 6-8 weeks. But, oh, is it ever sweet. Or, at least, it can be. And it's going on now.
Just how excited about snow crab are we?
Well, Michelle and Seth have been preparing a lovely snow crab pasta dish as part of their Quebec Spring/Printemps québécois menu at the Foodlab. It features handmade/housemade tagliatelle cooked to perfection and tossed with a medley of spring vegetables (string beans, peas, shallots, and the first of the cherry tomatoes from our friends at Birri Brothers), herbs (chives and parsley), a generous helping of snow crab meat, and a beautiful crab cream.
And here at home we've been going to town on our very favourite tacos in the entire world: tacos stuffed with salpicón de jaiba.
fig. b & c: crab tacos!
We've featured this recipe before, but it's an absolutely essential one, and a great way to stretch your crabmeat a little further, because, god knows, those snow crabs are tasty, but they can also be quite costly. Here it is again, revised and updated:
Salpicón de Jaiba
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup finely chopped white onion
1/3 cup finely chopped celery
2 serrano or jalapeño chiles, seeded and finely chopped
1 cup cooked, shredded crabmeat
1 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
1/8-1/4 tsp crushed chili pepper blend (some combination of ancho, pasilla, arbol, chipotle, and/or New Mexico grande chiles)
salt to taste
Heat the oil in a skillet and cook the onion gently until translucent.
Add the celery and sauté for about one minute. Add the fresh chiles and sauté for 30-60 seconds.
Add the crabmeat and fry until it is warmed through and begins to brown ever so slightly. The mixture should be rather dry--remember, you're going to be placing it in a taco.
Lastly, take the mixture off the heat, add the cilantro, salt, and chili blend, and toss, allowing the flavours to mingle for a minute or two before serving.
Serve with hot tortillas and plenty of fixings, like pico de gallo, sour cream or crema, hot sauce, and limes.
Makes enough to fill at least 8-10 corn tortillas.
[based on a recipe from Diana Kennedy's The Essential Cuisines of Mexico]Might seem a little strange to make Mexican tacos with Quebec crab, but, trust me, a little cultural exchange can be a good thing.
fig. d: Juan Carlos, the Mexican crab
fig. e: Jean-Charles, the Quebec snow crab
Go, Crabs, go!