Getting hot crab dip to a potluck while bubbling hot admittedly
involves some logistics, but it’s well worth it. Image source: Flickr CC user
I’m always the first to volunteer to prepare a dish or three for the potlucks we sometimes have in my office. I enjoy cooking, of course, but I also think it’s important to nurture good working relationships with co-workers. One of the most effective ways I’ve been able to endear myself to those around me is through food. In my office, there are a wide range of diets, all of which must be catered to if a potluck is going to be a success.
Over the years I’ve carved out a niche as the one who brings the seafood dishes. We have a lot of pescetarians (or at least vegetarians who eat seafood every so often) in our office, but these dishes are designed to win over meat-eaters as well. I have two fail-proof, go-to seafood recipes that always seem to be a success, and I’ll share the secrets here.
You Can’t Go Wrong with Shrimp Cocktail
This first dish is a great way to ensure that what you bring to the office has wide appeal. It can also be stored in your office fridge throughout the day and then served cold, no need to worry about heating it up, or trying to keep it warm throughout the morning.
Put the following ingredients in a dutch oven or a large saucepan, and bring to a gentle boil over high heat:
Once all the ingredients have been added and the mixture brought to a gentle boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 5 minutes, which should be plenty of time for the flavors to mingle. Then, add a pound of medium or large fresh raw shrimp, peeled and deveined with their tails left on. Cook gently at a simmer for 3 minutes, until the shrimp are pink and firm. Remove from the heat and place the shrimp in a colander. Rinse under cold water. Refrigerate the shrimp and then serve cold.
Preparation Tips: You definitely want to make this dish the night before the potluck. I find that leaving the shrimp to chill overnight in the refrigerator gives them better zest and flavor the next day. And if you buy your shrimp peeled, you can get this recipe made in 15 minutes or less. To serve, place the shrimp on a platter with a dish of cocktail sauce (easy to make yourself, using ketchup, worcestershire sauce, horseradish, and lemon juice).
Substitutions: The spices I added to the boiling water at the start of this recipe are largely my personal preference. I like to keep my shrimp cocktails traditional. However, feel free to experiment with substitutions here, especially if you work with more adventurous folks. I’ve found in the past that cilantro, lime and red onion in place of bay leaves, lemon and parsley give this dish a Mexican or southwestern zest. You can also experiment with different sauces--a simple tartar sauce is always a favorite, as well, or something more unusual, like an Asian-style sauce using lime juice, brown sugar, and chilies.
Elegant, Filling Hot Dungeness Crab Dip
To be blunt, this second recipe is aimed at your co-workers who don’t count calories. Shrimp cocktail can be downright healthy at times, but this dish relies heavily on cream and cheese. What they share in common, however, is that they’re easy to love and appeal to meat-eaters and pescetarians alike.
Start by preheating your oven to 400 degrees. Then mix the following ingredients in a large bowl, stirring them together in the order below:
The last step is to fold in crabmeat. I like to use the meat from one fresh cooked whole Dungeness crab, but you can also buy your crabmeat pre-cooked and picked. Pour it all into a 1-quart baking dish, and sprinkle with a handful of Parmesan cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees, until it's bubbly and hot. Remove from the oven and top with chopped green onions.
Preparation Tips: Another thing this dish has in common with the cocktail is that it’s simple to prepare, which is invaluable when you’re making two appetizer-type dishes for a quick weekday potluck. The trickiest part is deciding where to bake it. You can easily prepare this dish at home the night before and then microwave it in the breakroom the next day. However, if your office has a kitchenette with an oven, I suggest mixing everything ahead before taking it to work cold and baking it there. The third option is to make it the night before, then head home from the office an hour or so before the potluck to bake it and then bring it into the office warm. This route is of course contingent on how close you live to your office and whether your supervisor gives you much leeway. I know my own office lets me head home on potluck days and do this--the dish is that tasty.
Substitutions: There’s no good way to replace all the cheese in this recipe with something healthier without entirely changing the texture and the dish. I’ve tried the dish with low and reduced fat cream cheese, mayo, and sour cream, and though it does work, I think it’s not nearly as good. The crab can be switched out without too much trouble, though. I love fresh Dungeness crab, but when it’s not in season feel free to use pre-shelled crabmeat. Crab also works well with spicy flavors, so if the hot sauce doesn’t give this dish enough kick for your taste, go ahead and add diced jalapeno. When I do this, I also like to add diced fresh red bell pepper, to contrast the spicy kick with some sweetness. Along these same lines, you can certainly add other vegetables to this dip, if you like. A couple of handfuls of roughly chopped artichoke hearts or defrosted frozen spinach would work wonderfully here, in my opinion.
My final tip is to use a reliable, high-quality online seafood market like Dailyfreshfish.com to save even more time and guarantee the freshness of your ingredients. Daily Fresh Fish delivers the sometimes hard-to-find seafood you need right to your door, so you don’t have to make a special trip to the store and spend time hunting for the freshest and best-looking seafood. They are also a leader in sustainable seafood, so you can do a good thing for your coworkers, the fishermen, and the ocean all at the same time.