When it comes to flavor combinations, food people love to talk about “matches made in heaven.” There must be thousands of them–pairs of foods that, when combined, produce something mysteriously greater than the sum of their parts. Some pairs are well-known, shouted from rooftops, loudly and eloquently beloved. Peanut butter and banana! Strawberry and rhubarb! Mushrooms and sage! Pumpkin and cinnamon! Chocolate and chili! Chocolate and hazelnut! Chocolate and coffee!
Then there are the pairs that we sort of forget about, until they saunter up side-by-side and slap us on the chin. Like crab and avocado.
Every time I eat avocado and crab together, I’m freshly amazed at how well they get along. Something about the creamy, fruity richness of the avocado makes it an ideal pair for sweet stringy crab. Not long ago, I had a salad at a business lunch that reminded me, again, of how great they are together. Like most of my crab-and-avocado encounters, it kept the two separate: a pile of crabmeat, a fan of avocado slices, lettuce, and vinaigrette. No more than that. I ate, and my eyes rolled back in my head a little, and I made up my mind not to let the combination slip my mind again.
From there, I started thinking about a different kind of crab salad, the picnic and barbecue kind, bound together with mayonnaise and flecked with tiny vegetable bits. What if I replaced the mayonnaise with avocado? Would that even work?
The short answer is, yes. Absolutely. A perfectly ripe avocado, mashed ferociously with a whisk, makes a fine mayonnaise substitute, and infuses every bite of the crab salad with buttery flavor. I tossed in the chopped-up leftover vegetables from my gazpacho experiment, and spiked the whole thing with plenty of hot sauce. (Next time, I think I’ll use a green pepper rather than red, for more of a bitter bite against the rich avocado and sweet crab.) The salad tasted like a crabby guacamole, and cried out to be piled onto tortilla chips. I can only imagine how terrific this would be at a backyard barbecue in the summertime, with plenty of cold drinks and good friends close at hand.
Avocado Crab Salad (serves 4-6 as an appetizer or party snack)
Note: See those hefty chunks of vegetables in the photo? Those are too big. I got lazy and didn’t want to dice much finer, but you really need to break them down small if you want that pleasant smooth-crunch-smooth texture of a good crab salad. Dice the veggies as finely as you can.
1 ripe avocado, halved and pitted
Zest and juice of 1 lime (about 2 tsp of each)
8 oz (about 1 cup) jumbo lump crab meat, picked over for shell fragments
1/2 English (seedless) cucumber, finely diced
1/2 medium red or green bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
Tabasco or other hot sauce to taste
Salt to taste
Squeeze the avocado out of its skin and into a medium mixing bowl. Add lime juice and zest, and use a whisk to beat the mixture until creamy and almost smooth (a few lumps are fine). Add crab meat, cucumber, bell pepper, scallions, hot sauce, and salt, and stir to combine. Serve immediately, or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to a day.