West Indies Salad

Luxurious Crab, Utterly simple

West Indies Salad is a unique specialty served by restaurants all around the Mobile Bay. An uncomplicated dish of cool crab meat in a marinade with chopped onions, it usually comes as an appetizer. Nobody debates the recipe. The only significant point of contention is how long the crab meat should marinate. Some believe the longer, the better. At once rich and piquant, it adds luxury to the meal. And, depending on the current price of crab meat, it can add many dollars to the meal’s cost.

Many places serve West Indies family-style for the whole table. Serious devotees of the dish get a double portion as an entree. Unlike so many other high-end seafood dishes, it wants no adornment or dressing up. Saltine crackers or oyster crackers usually come alongside as its only companion.

Who Created West Indies Salad?

Seafood authorities of the region offer several stories to explain how this cool crab dish came to be. The most credible one was that of long-time Mobile restaurateur Bill Bayley. Long ago in the early days of our Roadfood research, he told us that he had been a cook on a ship docked in the Cayman Islands shortly after World War II. One day, he found himself with a bunch of lobsters but not much to go with them. So he mixed up what he did have – oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and a chopped sweet onion. He used that as a marinade for the cooked and cooled lobster meat he had. It was a hit.

A few years after that, when Mr. Bayley opened a restaurant in Mobile, he wanted to include it on his menu. But lobsters were scarce and expensive. So he substituted meat from the Gulf’s abundant crab population. A great dish was born.

Only In The Mobile Bay

Curiously, although crab meat holds a place of honor in other regions of the country — notably, the Chesapeake Bay and Pacific Northwest — West Indies salad almost never appears on menus beyond the Mobile Bay.

 

 

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