Behind the Dish: Crab Louis

Crab Louis is what you might call a “retro dish”: you don’t see it on all that many menus anymore. It appears to have originated somewhere on the West Coast before World War I; at least James Beard himself claimed to have first enjoyed the dish at around that time. At the time, the cities of Portland (Beard’s hometown), San Francisco and Seattle teemed with oyster and crab bars offering up the freshest and best Pacific seafood, any of which may have spurred the invention of Crab Louis.

What is it, exactly? It’s an entree-sized salad made with (of course) lump crab meat, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and hard-boiled eggs. What makes it distinctive is the dressing, which incorporates mayonnaise, chili sauce, lemon juice, horseradish and parsley. Try our version (we’ve got pickle in there, too — all served atop a wedge of Romaine) and see why this was said to be James Beard’s favorite crab dish. (They say the great opera star Enrico Caruso loved it too: when the Metropolitan Opera touring company played Seattle in 1904, he kept ordering it until none was left in the kitchen.) It’s a little different for a winter dish — more of a cool salad than a cozy warmer-upper — but we think you’ll find this spicy take on fresh seafood and crispy vegetables a welcome change of pace right about now.