When you grow up in Maryland like C did, some of your best meals take place on top of newspapers.
We’re talking about crabs, of course! Since moving to California, our crab feasts have centered around Dungeness from the Pacific Northwest — and lump meat recipes tend to jettison Old Bay and breadcrumbs in favor of lighter, more herbaceous, more West Coast ingredients.
This year we added a new herb, anise hyssop, to our garden, and have been itching to use it in a main course. (Ours is actually a hybrid, Agastache ‘Summer Sky.’) Although this purple-flowering perennial is a member of the mint family, its taste echoes (the not-closely-related) anise — angular and heady, with a licorice depth. Fennel is another flavor analog. We’ve been munching on the leaves and flowers of our Agastache like rabbits.
We first learned about this plant’s culinary magic from Chef Chris Weber last spring during our visit to the Herbfarm in Woodinville, WA. With the blessing of The Flavor Bible, we decided to mix our ‘Summer Sky’ hyssop into a light, lemony crab salad.
So we made haste to our favorite fishmonger, El Pescador in La Jolla, for some fresh Dungeness. (Apparently crabs are so fond of the scent of licorice that it’s used in baits. We can’t decide if eating the two together — bait aroma and prey — is creepy or a principle of terroir, or what.)
Anyway, the recipe we used is adapted from Epicurious. We swapped out the original parsley for anise hyssop and the baby greens for more party platter-friendly cucumber slices. The result was out of this world: the fresh-from-the-ocean briny sweetness of the Dungeness crab is counterbalanced perfectly by the sharp snap of anise hyssop. The olive oil (we chose a grassy Californian from Trader Joe’s) and lemon provided bright, subtle framing.
Even better, this recipe is ridiculously simple:
Prep time: 10 minutes
1 pound fresh crabmeat, picked over
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh anise hyssop leaves
2 cucumbers, sliced
1. In large nonmetallic bowl toss first four ingredients to combine. Adjust lemon juice and olive oil amounts according to taste.
2. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Serve on cucumber slices, and garnish with anise hyssop flower. —TH