The best party dishes are ones that fit two criteria: you can make them ahead and serve them at room temperature. And marinated seafood, like classic West Indies salad and southern pickled shrimp, fits them both. Think of them as a sort of Gulf Coast ceviche, even though you’re beginning with cooked seafood.
The Mobile, Alabama favorite, West Indies Salad, is made with crabmeat, minced onions and an oil and vinegar solution, and Charleston-born pickled shrimp, involves fresh boiled shrimp riding it out in a tangy marinade for a couple of days before serving. They’re delicious crowd pleasers that offer a refreshing counterpoint to party buffets where the rest of the line-up can be heavy.
West Indies Salad
The original recipe for West Indies salad allegedly springs from Bayley’s Restaurant south of Mobile in the late forties, and is still being reinterpreted by food journalists and chefs today. Here’s a version from Saveur Magazine that springs from one made by Wintzell’s Oyster House. And another from the Washington Post that modernizes the classic.
Whatever version you use, it’s a really easy recipe, and it’s also great for times when you can only find local crabmeat that’s frozen. That imperfect watery texture resulting from freezing becomes a lot more tolerable when the crab’s been marinated overnight.
Using two 16 oz. containers of crabmeat, I start by layering one-half a finely diced small yellow onion in the bottom of plastic container, then 1 pound of jumbo lump crabmeat, cartilage and shells removed, and topped with a little kosher salt. On top of that, I layer the rest of the diced onion, and the other pound of crabmeat with a little more salt. Then I combine 1 cup grapeseed oil (vegetable or canola are more commonly used) and 1 cup cider vinegar in a measuring cup and pour the solution over the crabmeat and onions. I topped it with fresh chopped parsley, and let it marinate for a least 24 hours. I serve it on a platter surrounded by shredded iceberg lettuce, sliced tomatoes and saltine crackers. Simple and delicious.
Admittedly, pickled shrimp is more work since you have to peel, devein, boil and cool the shrimp before the marinating begins. So, I usually reserve this recipe for the holidays when I want to kill it in the kitchen and I don’t mind the extra work. This dish has been reinterpreted across the south from its alleged birthplace, Charleston, to Texas, where it was apparently a Laura Bush favorite. I like to use a recipe from my hometown, Columbus, Georgia.
3 pounds large cleaned boiled shrimp
2 onions, sliced thin
5 celery stalks with leaves, cut into1-inch pieces
2 lemons, sliced thin
¾ cup cider vinegar
¾ cup canola oil
4 oz. bottle capers with juice
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
8 dashes Tabasco sauce
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons celery seed
3 cloves garlic, peeled
Using a tall lidded container or a large jar with tight lid, place a layer of shrimp in the bottom, and follow with layers of onion slices, celery and lemon slices and repeating until complete. Mix marinade ingredients in blender or food processor and pour over shrimp mixture. Refrigerate, turning container often to ensure flavor penetrates. Marinate for 24-48 hours before serving. Arrange on a bed of butter or romaine lettuce.
– Modified from A Southern Collection of Tested Recipes, from the Junior League of Columbus, Georgia