July has arrived, and that means Dungeness crab season here in the Puget Sound. I love this time of year. Even when fishing is slow, or dead, we usually come home with fresh crab.
Just remember what I’ve told you before, the key to a full crab pot is two baits. One broadcast bait to lure the crab in, and a feeder bait to keep them in the trap once they enter. After that, it’s all a matter of finding the right location and the right depth.
Opening day was mid-week, and as most of my buddies were at work, I went out by myself for the year’s first crabbing trip. I dropped one pot at 70 feet, and the other at 95. When I pulled the 95 footer, I found one female and one keeper. Not great for my first pull of the opening day. Then I pulled the 70 foot pot…
I had to strain to lift this pot over the gunnel. It had 11 females in it, and 12 keeper sized males. Pity I was out there solo. I kept my limit of 5, all of them brutes. The other 8 potential keepers got stay of executi…um, deliciousness.
Speaking of deliciousness, I decided to add a little Latin fare to my crab this time around. Rellenos are a fun meal, and a something that many of us don’t have often: a Mexican dish that doesn’t involve chips or tortilla. Mild chili peppers stuffed with cheese, and served with cooked tomato salsa: It’s hard to go wrong with that combination. Add in fresh crab meat, and you’ve got a meal people will talk about for a while.
Typically, chili rellenos are coated in an egg batter & fried. They are delicious that way, and if you want to make yours that way, by all means go for it. There are some drawbacks to that method though. First off, it adds a rather messy step to the preparation. Also, you need to eat them right away after they’re fried as they lose the crispiness quickly.
One of the things I prefer about my baked version is that you can prepare and pan it ahead of time, even days ahead of time, and toss it in the oven in time to eat. Additionally, baked rellenos can be held warm for a little while, and eaten later. They hold up well over time. That makes them a great choice if you have company coming over, if you are bringing a dish to a dinner party, or if your kid is just late getting home in time to eat. Even though you went through the effort to make her a nice dinner, and where is she? Probably hanging out with that idiot boy with the greasy hair and and the ring through his nose. What does she see in him anyway? He’s got no JOB! HE’S GOT NO PROSPECTS! WHAT DOES SHE EXPEC …..
Umm, I drifted off topic again, didn’t I?
OK, let’s get back on track and make some dinner.
Baked Crab Chili Rellenos
- 8 anaheim or poblano chilis
- 3 tomatoes
- 1/2 onion
- 1 or 2 jalapeño peppers
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 Tbs olive or canola oil
- juice of 1 lime
- 1/4 cup of cilantro leaves
- 1/2 cup chicken broth
- 1 -1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 10-12 oz. cleaned crab meat Get my basic steamed crab recipe here.
- 12 oz shredded jack cheese, or pepper-jack if you want to add more spice
- 6 oz queso fresco
- 1/4 cup sliced green onions
Char the chiles on a very hot BBQ grill or the flame of a gas stove until the skin is mostly blackened & blistered. I used Anaheim chiles for this batch, but poblano peppers work very well too. If you were doing typical roasted peppers, I’d tell you to put them in a bowl when they came off the flame, and then cover it with plastic wrap. This softens them up and makes them easier to peel. However for this dish you don’t want them to be too soft, yet. So leave them uncovered until it’s time to peel them. Char three large tomatoes the same way. Chop the 1/2 onion, jalapeño, and garlic. It doesn’t really matter how large the pieces are. Put the oil in a sauce pot, and place it over medium heat. Add the onions & jalapeño and sauté for 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic. Chop the tomatoes and add them to the pot, along with the lime juice, cilantro, chicken broth, and salt & pepper. Pro tip: Sometimes cooked crab meat will weep liquid. This is particularly true if it’s been refrigerated or frozen. If you have any of that liquid, add it to the pot as well. Bring the mixture to a very low simmer, and cook for 3o minutes. Once the salsa is cooked, puree it. If you don’t have an immersion blender like in the photo, use a food processor or standard blender. Just remember, whenever you put hot food in a blender or food processor, do it in small batches, and set a kitchen towel over the lid to protect from potential splashing. Peel the chilies by scraping the charred skin off with a knife. Don’t worry about any bits that don’t want to come off. This isn’t an exact science. Cut a slit in each pepper starting at the stem end and going 2/3rds of the way toward the tip. Then cut a small cross slit near the stem end. The idea is to make a flap in one side of the chili. Carefully scrape out most of the seeds & pith from inside the chili. As with the peel, don’t worry about getting all of it. Combine the crab and shredded jack cheese. Be careful to not break up the lumps of crab. Stuff each chili with crab & cheese mixture. Ladle 1/2 the salsa into the bottom of a casserole dish. Set the stuffed chilies into the dish. Then ladle the rest of the salsa on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Sprinkle the queso fresco on top, and bake for another 10 minutes. After it’s out of the oven, garnish with sliced green onions. Long, narrow spatulas, like “fish turners” work well for serving these. I love the way these look on the plate. They are a great blending of comfort food and classy cuisine.
All right, they get a little messy when you start tearing into them, but that comes with its own rewards.
Another benefit of doing a baked style relleno rather than fried, is that this style reheats really well. I strongly suggest making a large pan, and enjoying again tomorrow. These make really versatile leftovers. They can be simply reheated and they’re great. But I suggest you try chopping them up, salsa & all. Just remove the chili stems. Then use that as an omelet filling, or put it inside a tortilla along with some more cheese for a quesadilla. It’s also really fantastic mixed into mac & cheese, or even potato salad. Those are just a few suggestions off the top of my head. Have any ideas of your own?