Turn Canned Crab Into An Iconic Northwestern Salad

Fresh, simply prepared seafood is one of the summer's great pleasures. If you live someplace where the ocean's abundance is readily available, seafood shacks abound, ready to satisfy your seasonal urge for a modest sum. But, for much of the U.S., fresh fish and shellfish aren't so easy to come by — and so frozen or canned is the way to go. 

While there are many different (and tasty) types of crab, none of them are easy (or cheap) to ship whole — which is one of the reasons crab is generally so expensive if you're outside a zone of plenty (like the Blue Crab zone of Maryland or the Dungeness region of the Pacific Northwest). Canned crab is remarkably tasty and versatile, however. And you don't need fresh crab to make one of the Pacific Northwest's best-known salads: Crab Louie (also spelled Louis).

Crab Louie is a salad with origins dating back over a century. It traditionally combines Dungeness crab meat with tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, and hard-boiled eggs in a creamy dressing. But just what kind of dressing is a critical matter, and not easily settled. Recipes include numerous variations; and, since crab has a delicate natural flavor, the dressing is a key component to nailing the dish. Mayonnaise is almost always present; ketchup is a frequent addition, as are chili and  Worcestershire sauce, resulting in what is often a pink dressing similar to Thousand Island.

Seattle's Eiffel Tower?

It's a simple salad to prepare, and a familiar one all the way from San Francisco to the northern coast of Washington State. The dish reflects the unique history of the area, where people expanded into a region inhabited by indigenous peoples with long experience fishing the rich waters of the Pacific. As more settlers moved to the area, they learned to harvest the abundance of the sea surrounding them. Tasty Dungeness crabs abound in Puget Sound and, along with salmon, became synonymous with the area's cookery. 

Like many famous dishes, Crab Louie's origin is shrouded in controversy and is remarkably difficult to pin down historically. San Fransisco claims Crab Louie as one of its own signature dishes, but Washington State has made a strong case as well. Many in Spokane believe that it was named after Llewellyn "Louis" Davenport for a salad served in his well-known hotel. The dish became associated with the Olympic Club of Seattle, too — enough so that a 1930s reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer was able to state in an article (presumably, straight-faced) that a "trip to Seattle without crab à la Louie is like Paris without the Eiffel Tower" (via KCTS9).

 A strained analogy, perhaps — but a memorable one. Sounds like it's time to open a can of crab and find out if Crab Louie is really all it's cracked up to be.