September 15, 2008

Crab Pretzel





Ingredients:
for the dip:
1 small shallot, grated
8 oz fresh blue crab meat
3 oz shredded sharp cheddar
3 oz cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1/2 tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard


for the pretzel:

3/4 oz active dry yeast
1 1/3 cups flour
1/2 cup warm water
1 tablespoon sugar PLUS 1/8 teaspoon
1 tablespoon melted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt

pretzel topping:
sea salt
water


to sprinkle: additional shredded sharp cheddar


Directions:
for the crab dip:
Before you begin, make sure you pick out any bits of shell or cartilage that might have been over looked in the crab processing process. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together. Make sure all ingredients are evenly distributed. Refrigerate before use.

for the pretzels:
Dissolve yeast into water with the 1/8 teaspoon of sugar, let stand 5 minutes. In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, remaining sugar, salt and butter. Add the dissolved yeast and then pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer and knead until a smooth, elastic round ball forms. Add a little more flour or water a tablespoon at a time if the dough looks too wet or dry. Alternately, knead by hand on a clean, floured flat surface. Place in an buttered bowl, cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap and allow to rise in a cool place for 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in size.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425. Pour the water into a shallow bowl. Stretch the dough into a long tube about 1/2 inch thick. Set aside to rest for 5 minutes. Fold into a pretzel shape by making a rough circle and crossing the ends inward. Brush with water and sprinkle lightly with sea salt.

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Place the giant pretzel on to a parchment or silipat lined baking sheet. Allow to sit for 5 additional minutes. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until pretzel is golden brown.

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Remove from the oven. Top with a generous amount of crab dip. Sprinkle with cheddar then stick the pretzel back into the oven for 1-2 minutes to melt the cheese. Serve hot. I suggest placing it on a cutting board and allowing people to slice off chunks with a bread knife to eat off of an individual plate.

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Yield: 1 giant crab pretzel (serves many as an appetizer)


My thoughts:
Coming back from an Eastern Shore vacation where not a day went by when blue crab didn't pass my lips, I still hunger for crab.

The crab pretzel is dish that is found on many menus throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Basically an extremely large soft pretzel covered in a Old Bay-spiked crab dip, the crab pretzel's origins are unclear although several restaurants (perhaps most adamantly, the Silver Spring Mining Company) claim to have invented it. Soft pretzels are extremely common and popular in the Mid-Atlantic and up to New York and crab dip is particularly Baltimore and Maryland favorite, though both have found national fans, so perhaps it isn't surprising some enterprising soul brought them together. I know the pairing of the two sounds unlikely but it totally works-the soft, saltiness of the pretzel complements the creaminess of the dip and is a nice alternative to crackers or chips. Some places cover the dip with a large amount of cheddar but for my homemade version I added just a sprinkle to avoid overpowering the crab. This homemade version is a bit lighter and fresher tasting than many of the crab pretzels sold in restaurants and I think, even more delicious.

I know some people find working with yeast daunting but this is really a great, soft and easy to handle dough. Practically fool-proof yet very impressive. Who makes homemade pretzels anymore much less one covered in crab?

If crab pretzels are not quite your thing the pretzel recipe is perfect for making plain soft pretzels (divide it into 4 more normal sized pretzels if you'd like) and the dip is delightful on its own. Crab dip is normally served hot so I'd spoon it into ramekins or a small baking dish, sprinkle it with cheese and bake at 350 for about 10 minutes before serving.


A note about the crab meat:
Some restaurants boast that the crab meat on the crab pretzel is "jumbo lump" which is lovely stuff but very expensive (too expensive to make dip with in my opinion) and some times hard to find outside of the region. I find that backfin/generic "lump" crab meat works just as well and frankly is what many restaurants use in their crabcakes and crab pretzels even if they do claim to use jumbo lump-they just hope you don't notice.




Interested in trying out some other Mid-Atlantic regional recipes?
Check out my recipe for Baltimore-style Sour Beef & Dumplings or the local variation on cheesecake, Smearcase. Or if you want something super simple, try lemon sticks, another Baltimore classic.