On a Cold Winter’s Night: Spicy Crab and Polenta


Looking for a no-fuss, yet fancy meal to serve company on a cold, winter night? Here’s a take on the classic Southern shrimp ‘n grits that switches out the shrimp for crab meat, and the grits for polenta. I created this to honor our west coast Dungeness crab season, in full swing now. Dungeness crab in season is a sustainable seafood choice, and a real treat.

If Dungeness crab is unavailable in your area, you may substitute other types of crab, shrimp (support Gulf fishermen and buy domestic wild, not farmed from Asia), or scallops.

Cooking the polenta in the oven, rather than the stove top, makes this dish almost criminally easy.

Serves 2

3 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup polenta

About a 1/4 cup heavy cream

About a 1/2 stick of butter

1 small shallot, cut into the tiniest dice possible

1/3 of a celery rib, cut into the tiniest dice possible

About 2 teaspoons good quality spicy ground chile of your choice, to your taste (cayenne or something fancier like Aleppo pepper would both work)

About 1 1/2 cups of picked crab meat

3 green onions (white and green parts), chopped fine

Preheat the oven to 375. Combine the water, salt and polenta in a heavy baking dish with a lid. Stir together. Put it in the oven. Remove from the oven and stir every 15 minutes, cooking for a total of 45 minutes. Turn off the oven, stir in the heavy cream, and return the polenta to the hot oven while you prepare the crab.

In a heavy skillet over medium heat, warm the butter. Add the shallot and celery and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the chile, crab, green onions, and a little salt if you need it (crab can be salty) and stir to warm through. Add more butter if you like.

To serve, spoon the polenta onto warmed plates or shallow bowls. Top with crab mixture, dividing it evenly. Serve immediately.

Recipe Copyright Vanessa Barrington 2010

Image: Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.