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A Summery Seafood Salad

wolfgangSummer is a perfect time to enjoy seafood. Light and fresh in flavor and texture, and therefore refreshing to eat, it's an ideal ingredient for the season. And when it comes to using seasonal ingredients in your cooking, a great seafood choice right now is fresh crabmeat.

During warm weather, I love to make seafood salads, especially those featuring crabmeat as well as shrimp. It seems everybody enjoys them. In fact, when I walk through the dining room and see my guests tucking into seafood salads, their relaxed smiles sometimes make it seem as if they've been magically transported to a seaside resort and are feeling the sunshine and breeze on their faces.

As relaxing to eat as my recipe is for Crab and Shrimp Salad, it's also incredibly easy on the cook. The few ingredients require almost no preparation, just a little cutting, picking, and stirring. And no heat is involved -- welcome relief in summer.

You can buy the crabmeat and shrimp already cooked and shelled and ready to serve. Be sure to get them from a seafood store you know and trust, one with a good reputation and a frequent turnover of product. Let your eyes and nose be your guide to picking good-quality product, which should look bright and firm yet moist and should smell only fresh, sweet, and clean. Any hint of "off" odors that seem fishy or remind you of ammonia should send you looking elsewhere. Buy the seafood the same day you plan to use it -- and keep it refrigerated, of course, until you do.

As for the vegetables that complete the salad, use the prewashed and bagged mixed baby greens so widely available in markets today, along with summer tomatoes and avocado. By all means, feel free to add other salad vegetables you like to the mixture as well, such as shredded baby carrots, thinly sliced cucumber, slivers of bell pepper, some chopped celery -- whatever strikes your fancy.

For the dressing, I like to use a version of the classic tartar sauce so often served with seafood, an easily made recipe you can base on good-quality store-bought mayonnaise. For a change of pace, you could stir garlic and lemon juice or fresh basil into the mayonnaise, or use your favorite Caesar dressing (omitting the Parmesan cheese), or substitute a light, lemony vinaigrette. Whichever you use, take care not to overdress the seafood, as the sauce should enhance rather than overpower it.

Serve the salad as a light main course, or in smaller portions as an appetizer. Either way, prepare to feel at first bite as if you've suddenly been transported to a summer seaside resort!

CRAB AND SHRIMP SALAD

Serves 4 to 6

3/4 pound fresh crabmeat, preferably from stone crabs from the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico

3/4 pound domestic wild-caught pink shrimp, cooked

1/2 cup Tartar Sauce (recipe follows)

1/3 cup minced fresh organic chives, plus 1 tablespoon extra for garnish

1/3 cup finely diced red onion

6 cups mixed organic baby greens

3 ripe tomatoes, stemmed and thinly sliced

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Sugar

1 ripe but firm avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, and cut lengthwise into thin slices

1 tablespoon minced parsley

With your fingertips, pick through the crabmeat to remove any pieces of shell or cartilage. Transfer the crabmeat to a mixing bowl. Pick through the shrimp to remove any fragments of shell, and then add the shrimp to the crabmeat.

Add the Tartar Sauce, chives, and red onion to the bowl. Gently fold the ingredients together until the seafood, chives, and onion are well mixed and evenly coated with the dressing. If not serving immediately, cover and refrigerate.

On 4 chilled main-course salad plates or 6 chilled appetizer salad plates, attractively arrange beds of the baby greens. Scoop the seafood salad in mounds on the center of each bed of greens.

Arrange the tomato slices attractively around the seafood salad and season them with just a pinch of sugar. Arrange the avocado slices attractively among the tomato slices; then, season both the avocado and tomatoes with salt and pepper to taste and drizzle them lightly with the olive oil. Garnish each plate with the remaining chives and the parsley and serve immediately.

TARTAR SAUCE

Makes about 1-1/2 cups

1-1/2 cups store-bought mayonnaise

1 tablespoon chopped cornichons (tiny French-style dill pickles)

1 tablespoon small rinsed and drained capers

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Put the mayonnaise in a mixing bowl. With a spoon or a wire whisk, stir in the cornichons, capers, tarragon, chives, and sugar until thoroughly blended. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use, up to 3 days.

(c) 2009 WOLFGANG PUCK WORLDWIDE, INC. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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