Crab Salad with Fennel, Rhubarb, and Madeira Gelée
This refreshing crab salad is a wonderful starter that also makes a stunning first course or main course for a light lunch. At the restaurant, our chefs typically use sweet, meaty Dungeness crab, found throughout California’s coastal waters, but if you can’t find Dungeness crab, any fresh crab will do. Keep in mind that most fishmongers sell cooked fresh crab that has been picked from the shell—a serious timesaver for the home cook. Crunchy fennel provides a delightful contrast to the crab, and the tangy rhubarb—macerated with strawberries and Madeira wine—offers an earthy flavor to marry with the seafood.
This intriguing dish includes five elements, but it’s really not difficult to prepare; each step requires only 5–10 minutes of prep time, plus a little more for macerating, marinating, and simmering. The key here is organization: Take it step by step.
10 ripe strawberries, hulled
1 rhubarb stalk, cut on the diagonal into 12–18 very thin slices
1 cup/240 ml Madeira wine
1 envelope (2 1/2 tsp) unflavored gelatin
2 fennel bulbs, cores and stalks removed, 1 very thinly shaved and 1 cut into 1/2-in/12-mm dice, plus fennel fronds for garnish
5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup/30 g firmly packed baby spinach leaves
1 cup/240 ml canned low-sodium chicken broth
3/4 cup/180 ml heavy (whipping) cream/double cream
1 lb/455 g fresh Dungeness or other lump crabmeat, picked over for shell fragments and cartilage
1/4 cup/55 g crème fraîche
1 shallot, minced
2 tbsp chopped fresh chives
Put the strawberries in a bowl and mash them gently with a fork. Add the rhubarb slices to the bowl and pour in 1/2 cup/120 ml of the Madeira. Stir gently to mix and let stand at room temperature for about 1 hour. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and discard the liquid. Return the macerated strawberry-rhubarb mixture to the bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to assemble.
In a saucepan, bring the remaining 1/2 cup/120 ml Madeira to a simmer over medium heat. Whisk in the gelatin until it dissolves. Pour the mixture into a nonreactive baking dish small enough so that the liquid covers the bottom in a thin film about 1/4 in/6 mm thick. Refrigerate until the gelée sets, about 1 hour.
Put the shaved fennel in a shallow, heatproof, nonreactive bowl. In a small saucepan, heat 3 tbsp of the olive oil over medium heat. Remove from the heat when the oil starts to shimmer or bubble slightly but before it begins to smoke. Pour the hot oil over the shaved fennel. Add 1 tbsp of the lemon juice and 1/2 tsp salt and stir to mix thoroughly. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, then cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Bring a small saucepan three-fourths full of water of water to a boil over high heat. Add the spinach and cook just until tender, 30–45 seconds. Drain in a colander and immediately rinse under cold running water to halt the cooking. Drain again completely. Using your hands, squeeze the excess moisture from the spinach and set aside.
In a medium sauté pan or frying pan, heat 1 tbsp of the remaining olive oil over medium heat. Add the diced fennel and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fennel is soft and translucent, about 20 minutes. Raise the heat to medium. Add the stock, bring to a simmer, and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the cream, bring to a simmer, and cook to heat the cream throughout and allow the flavors to blend, about 2 minutes longer. Transfer the creamed fennel to a blender or food processor, add the spinach, and pulse until the mixture is well combined and smooth. Remove any large pieces of fennel that may remain. Season with salt to taste. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, about 1 hour.
In a large, nonreactive bowl, combine the crabmeat, the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp lemon juice, the crème fraîche, the shallot, and the chives and fold gently to mix. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
To assemble the salads, spread a circle of the fennel sauce about 3 in/7.5 cm in diameter in the center of each serving plate. Place 2 slices of the strawberry-soaked rhubarb on top of the sauce, or slightly off-center. Using an ice-cream scoop, a mold, or measuring cup and dividing it evenly, place a mound of the crab salad on top of the rhubarb. Arrange a few slices of the shaved fennel on top of the crab-salad mounds, and garnish with 1 more slice of rhubarb on the side. Using a fork, scrape up and crumble the chilled, set Madeira gelée. Arrange a 1/2-tsp mound of gelée on each plate at the outer edge of each ring of fennel sauce. Garnish with the fennel fronds and serve at once.
Serves 6 as a first course, 4 as main course
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