A Post-Thanksgiving Crab Crack

Cookbook authors Matt Lee and Ted Lee invite you to try their favorite holiday tradition: a Lowcountry crab party with friends.

“There’s not a better time to be cooking in the South. Crabs are large, oysters are back in season, and there’s a last harvest of warm-weather crops,” Matt Lee says.

Photographer Tara Sgroi

Harvest Celebration

It’s late November in the Lowcountry. A briny ocean aroma always fills the air, but it’s tempered now with an earthy fragrance of fallen leaves. The trees aren’t all bare, though―live oak leaves still cling to branches, and steadfast marsh grasses blush gold and crimson. “Fall is the best time of year for food,” says Matt Lee, coauthor with brother Ted of The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook and The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern. “There’s not a better time to be cooking in the South. Crabs are large, oysters are back in season, and there’s a last harvest of warm-weather crops.”

For 20-plus years, Matt and Ted have made a November pilgrimage to the Johns Island, South Carolina, home that novelist Josephine Humphreys shares with her husband, Tom.

Photographer Tara Sgroi

Annual Feast

Thanksgiving is a traditional, formal affair for the Lees and their whole family. The next day is all about leftovers, but by Saturday, it’s time for another kind of feast. For 20-plus years, Matt and Ted have made a November pilgrimage to the Johns Island, South Carolina, home that novelist Josephine Humphreys shares with her husband, Tom. Although the brothers spend some of the year in New York City, Ted says, “My spiritual home is Charleston. Here is where we go to cook.”

Guests meander in for the daylong affair.

Photographer Tara Sgroi

Invited Friends

Guests meander in for the daylong affair. Because there is always something good to talk about in South Carolina, there’s always something good to write about, and this party has drawn a creative crowd: Josephine (author of Rich in Love), Dottie Frank (Return to Sullivans Island), Patti Callahan Henry (Losing the Moon), Mary Alice Monroe (Last Light Over Carolina), and Nathalie Dupree (Shrimp and Grits Cookbook).

Then there’s Dirty Rice—Matt and Ted’s must-have side dish—along with zesty carrot slaw, hearty hominy stew, and plum upside-down cake prepared in a cast-iron skillet.

Photographer Tara Sgroi

Party Food

The menu features a Lowcountry bounty, including hot boiled blue crabs caught in the Stono River, upstream about 6 miles as the crow flies. Then there’s Dirty Rice―Matt and Ted’s must-have side dish―along with zesty carrot slaw, hearty hominy stew, and plum upside-down cake prepared in a cast-iron skillet.

Standing around the makeshift plywood table, they roll up their sleeves and cheerfully dive into a pile of cooked crabs.

Photographer Tara Sgroi

Crowd Pleaser

Later, more of Matt and Ted’s friends drop in, but there’s still plenty of food and samples of Tom’s house wine, made from last year’s grape harvest. Standing around the makeshift plywood table, they roll up their sleeves and cheerfully dive into a pile of cooked crabs.

It’s not unusual for Ted and Matt to order upwards of 200 live blue crabs for their crab crack parties.

Photographer Tara Sgroi

Cracked Crabs

Bring all the creekside spirit of a crab crack indoors, if you have a long table covered with plenty of newspapers and friends keen on eating well! It’s not unusual for Ted and Matt to order upwards of 200 live blue crabs for their crab crack parties. Because you have to cook the crabs in batches, we’ve scaled the recipe down to 12, so you can prepare them easily on a cooktop.

Recipe:  Cracked Crabs

To save time, grate the carrots and turnips in a food processor using the grater blade attachment.

Photographer Tara Sgroi

Carrot and Turnip Slaw with Dill

To save time, grate the carrots and turnips in a food processor using the grater blade attachment.

Recipe:  Carrot and Turnip Slow with Dill

For this recipe, Matt and Ted give a classic Cajun dish a Lowcountry spin by adding okra.

Photographer Tara Sgroi

Dirty Rice

For this recipe, Matt and Ted give a classic Cajun dish a Lowcountry spin by adding okra.

Recipe:  Dirty Rice

This hearty meal is a great way to use your leftover turkey!

Photographer Tara Sgroi

Hominy Stew with Chicken and Chiles

This hearty meal is a great way to use your leftover turkey!

Recipe:  Hominy Stew with Chicken and Chiles

Hot, homemade boiled peanuts are truly delicious, but you can order them already prepared online.

Photographer Tara Sgroi

Boiled Peanuts

Hot, homemade boiled peanuts are truly delicious, but you can order them already prepared online. Matt and Ted started their business with this regional treat (5 pounds for $26.50); boiledpeanuts.com.

Recipe:  Boiled Peanuts

The brothers recommend using a well-seasoned cast iron skillet to bake the upside down cake, because the ample batter might overflow in a standard cake pan.

Photographer Tara Sgroi

Plum Upside-Down Pudding Cake

“This cake is beyond simple, yet festive and impressive―great for a large get-together. We simply toss fresh plum slices in a small amount of sugar and lemon juice, fan them around the bottom of a skillet, and pour a vanilla-buttermilk cake batter over them before baking,” Ted says. The brothers also recommend using a well-seasoned cast iron skillet to bake the upside down cake, because the ample batter might overflow in a standard cake pan.

Recipe:  Plum Upside-Down Pudding Cake

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