Crab Louie Salad may have been born in San Francisco, Portland, or even in Spokane. Written history informs us that it was being served at Solari’s in The Golden Gate City as early as 1914. A cookbook by Victor Hetzler, chef at the St. Francis Hotel, included a similar salad he called “Crabmeat a la Louise” in 1910. Some attribute its creation to Louis Davenport who built the Davenport Hotel in Spokane. An amusingly unorthodox source is The Neighborhood Cook Book, compiled by The Portland Council of Jewish Women in 1912.
Today, in-the-know diners flock to The Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco for this famous salad, and it’s their dressing recipe I use here. It’s a simple version of Thousand Island Dressing.
Like most salads, Crab Louie is constructed from a few basic ingredients: Dungeness crabmeat (use blue crab if you cannot find fresh Dungeness), iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, asparagus, and avocado served with a creamy dressing like Thousand Island or Russian. I added curly topped scallions, hard boiled eggs and crisply fried bacon.
I’ve seen it presented neatly constructed with the ingredients side by side à la Cobb Salad. I prefer the Jackson Pollock method, scattering them pell mell over the lettuce while allowing the star ingredient to assume center stage. Because the crab has a delicate and sweet flavor, I prefer to serve the dressing on the side.
Speaking of dressings, many have a way of maturing and developing deeper flavors if allowed to rest in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight, so make ahead of time if you can.
For the dressing:
2 cups (480 ml) of mayonnaise
1 cup (240 ml) tomato catsup or chili sauce
½ cup (120 ml) sweet pickle relish
½ cup (120 ml) black olives, chopped
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped or grated
Mix all ingredients until combined and let rest in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.
Note: I can see many subtle ways to adjust the flavor of this dressing: a dash or even a wallop of Sriracha in the catsup could provide a surprising kick. Let your imagination do its magic here.
For the salad:
1 head of iceberg lettuce, chopped (I firmly believe that iceberg lettuce is a must for the cool, crisp texture)
½ to ¾ pound (227-340 g) of fresh crabmeat, picked over to remove any shell or cartilage
½ pound (227 g) fresh asparagus, cooked and chilled
3 tomatoes, sliced into wedges
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
8 scallions, trimmed with 3 inches (7½ cm) of the greens remaining (to make the green ends curl, slice them with a sharp knife or scissors from the beginning of the dark green color to the cut ends and place in an ice water bath)
4 hard-boiled eggs, halved or quartered
4 slices of bacon cooked until crisp and chopped do not use
8 peppadew pickled peppers (Peppadew – a brand name of sweet piquanté peppers: look in the olive bar of your supermarket or on the shelves for jarred peppers)
Place some of the lettuce on a plate as a bed for the remainder.
Artfully place the remaining ingredients and serve with the dressing on the side. For 4 servings