Special snacks to celebrate a new year

December 30, 2016

Now that we’ve exchanged holiday gifts with our family and friends, it’s time to plan for New Year’s Eve. Through the years, we’ve enjoyed ball drops, neighborhood parties, hotel packages, dinner dances and restaurant champagne toasts. Maybe because we’re not fond of driving on a holiday devoted to drinking, we’ve come to prefer spending the latter part of the evening at home.

No matter where we have dinner (and if we do go out, you’ll find us at the early seating) we’ll make something special to snack on as the clock strikes midnight. This year, it’s likely to be crab puffs (as seen in the photo) or spicy hot crab dip. Either treat is easy to assemble, quick to cook and delicious with a flute of champagne.

While we typically select jumbo lump crabmeat for no-filler crabcakes, most types of cooked dishes and casseroles will work better with backfin. The differences between classifications of crabmeat reflect the size of the pieces, texture and taste - as well as the cost.

Jumbo lump comes from the two large muscles that control the swimming fins at the base of the crab. It’s the most expensive because there’s so little of it in each crab. These chunks of crabmeat have a bright white color and rich taste - perfect for dishes that will showcase the impressive size of the pieces. Lump crab is similar, but the pieces are less uniformly large.

Backfin is a blend of broken pieces of jumbo lump and chunks of white meat from the body of the crab. This grade is best in dips, salads and sauced dishes because it blends well, while still retaining its shape and texture. It’s what you’ll typically see as a garnish on soups, where you want a bit of crab without investing in jumbo lump.

Special crab can be considered the leftover crabmeat: what remains after the larger lump and backfin pieces have been harvested. This grade needs the most attention before cooking, as shell pieces are more prevalent. One way to see the shell fragments is to hold a black light over the crab, the other way is to carefully pick over the meat to remove bits of shell.

Special crab is the least costly type of crabmeat sold and is the prime ingredient in many commercial and restaurant crabcakes. Unless you can see the signature jumbo lumps in your crabcake, it’s probably a mix of special and backfin, along with various fillers and spices.

Claw meat is the darker, brownish, sweeter-flavored meat picked from the legs and claws. Because of its strong flavor, this type of crab is best for thick soups or heavy dishes with hearty sauces that need the deeper-flavored meat to keep the crab flavor from getting lost.

I’ve included two different recipes for crab puffs using backfin meat because the pieces are smaller, which is better when filling the small shells. For these, you can use precooked phyllo (also fillo) shells arranged on a baking sheet. Alternatively, you can trim puff pastry sheets or phyllo dough sheets to fit into mini muffin tins.

There are dozens of ways to make hot crab dip, with decadent ingredients ranging from cream cheese to butter and cheddar cheese. I’ve included two baked dip options, one easy and one cheesy. Happy New Year!

Phyllo Crab Puffs

15 mini phyllo shells
1 egg, separated
1 t Dijon mustard
2 T mayonnaise
2 T softened cream cheese
2 T grated Asiago cheese
1/2 t Worcestershire sauce
1/8 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t Old Bay seasoning
2 t parsley
8 oz backfin crabmeat
parsley for garnish

Preheat oven to 375 F. Arrange phyllo shells on an ungreased baking sheet in a single layer; set aside. Place the egg yolk in a mixing bowl; set aside. In a small bowl, beat the egg white until stiff; set aside. Add the mustard, mayonnaise, cream cheese and Asiago to the egg yolk and mix until smooth. Stir in Worcestershire, cayenne, Old Bay and parsley. Gently fold in the crabmeat and beaten egg white, stirring until combined. Fill the phyllo shells with crab mixture and bake until golden, about 15 minutes. Garnish with parsley.

Pastry Crab Puffs

3 puff pastry sheets, thawed
1/4 C mayonnaise
1 t Dijon mustard
1 1/2 t apple cider vinegar
2 T melted butter
1/4 t salt
1/4 t white pepper
1 t Old Bay seasoning
8 oz backfin crab meat
paprika (optional)
snipped chives

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut the puff pastry sheets (all 3 layers together) into 2-by-2-inch squares. Gently press the squares into the depressions of a mini muffin tin; set aside. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, butter and seasonings until smooth. Gently fold in the crab meat, stirring to incorporate. Fill each pastry shell with a generous tablespoon of crab mixture. Sprinkle each with a bit of paprika (optional). Bake until the pastry begins to brown at the edges, about 15 minutes. Garnish with snipped chives. Yield: 24 puffs.

Easy Crab Dip

8 oz backfin crabmeat
2/3 C mayonnaise
3/4 C grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425 F. Coat the inside of a small ceramic baking dish with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Whisk ingredients together and place in prepared dish. Sprinkle sparingly with cayenne. Bake until golden and bubbly, about 15 minutes. Serve with crackers or pita wedges.

Cheesy Crab Dip

16 oz backfin crabmeat
8 T butter
1/2 C diced celery
2/3 C minced onion
1/2 C flour
1 C half & half
2 egg yolks
1 t salt
1/4 t cayenne
1/2 t white pepper
8 oz grated cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 375 F. Coat the inside of a 1-quart baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Spread the crabmeat over the bottom of the pan; set aside. In a nonstick skillet, melt butter over medium. Add celery and onion; sauté until softened. Sprinkle flour over the vegetables and cook until lightly browned. Gradually pour in half & half, stirring constantly to remove any lumps. Whisk in egg yolks, salt and peppers. Cook over low heat until thickened and smooth, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and pour sauce into baking pan over the crabmeat. Stir gently to combine; top with grated cheese. Bake until lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Serve hot.