The best part of the holidays in Humboldt…

It wasn’t until I became interested in cooking and started picking up food magazines that I realized holiday dinners in Humboldt are not the same as in the rest of the country.  Every December I reach for a Bon Appetit or a Gourmet (r.i.p.) or a Saveur to admire the glistening beef tenderloin….the ham glazed with bourbon…the perfectly browned turkey.  And then I put it back on the rack and laugh because in a Humboldt December, it’s all about the crab.

Whether it’s crab cocktails, crab salad, whole cracked or simple sandwiches, everyone I know has some sort of Christmastime crab feast.  In the Xanax family, it’s the crab casserole.

“Crab casserole?”! I hear you exclaim, “but that sounds lowly and church potlucky.  Like it’s full of processed cheese and frozen peas.”

Oh ye of little faith.

The Xanax Family Crab Casserole is a miracle to behold.  Rich and decadent, full of butter and sherry and fresh crab and magic, it’s the one thing we can’t be without during the holidays.  Well, that and the obligatory guilt and feelings of inadequacy.

First, you saute about a pound of mushrooms in butter.

Warning: This dish uses a lot of butter.  And I mean a lot.  If copious amounts of butter offend you, then you should leave now.  Head over to the Humboldt Mirror where you can get your indigestion without any calories at all.

Next, Melt 1 and 1/2 sticks of butter in a big saucepan.  In this picture, I was doubling the recipe, so there are three sticks of butter being melted.  Three. Sticks. Of. Butter.

Once the butter is melted, add some sliced green onions – about three – and let them cook for a bit.  Then take 3/4 cup of flour and add it to the butter slowly.  Whisk it until it’s smooth and thick.  Are there any two lovelier words in the English language than smooth and thick?  Let’s just ponder that for a moment while we whisk our butter.

Mmmmmmmm.  Yeah.


Now add two cups of milk and then two cups of half and half to the butter mixture.  Season it with some salt and pepper and let it cook for awhile.

Next add the mushrooms, 6 cups of crab and 1/2 cup of sherry to the pot.  You might have to take a swig…or six…of sherry just to make sure it’s still good.  Add a few shakes of tabasco sauce and maybe some more salt and pepper.

Then pour the whole thing into a buttered 9 x 13 baking dish.

Preheat your oven to 350.  Take the same pan you sauteed the mushrooms in and add….you’ll never believe it….some more butter.  Then add some bread crumbs and stir until they’re coated and golden brown.

Spread the crumbs on top of the casserole.

Cook for about 20 – 25 minutes, until the casserole is bubbly, your house smells like booze-infused nirvana, and your dad begins to pace around the kitchen with drool pooling in the corners of his mouth.

Once you take it out of the oven, let it sit for about 20 minutes.  It will be runny at first, but letting it cool a bit thickens it up.

My nephews, who have sophisticated palates and came all the way from New York, were interviewed as to their thoughts on the holiday dinner.  I’m happy to report that although they kept referring to it as California Lobster, they found crab to be far superior to that other crustacean.

They also believe in Bigfoot.  Never has there been a prouder aunt.

It’s still crab season.  Enjoy!

Happy 2011.

10 responses to “The best part of the holidays in Humboldt…

  1. Oh I love that crab casserole. I was bummed to have missed it this year, tastiest thing around for the holidays.

  2. You know how much I love this post. Remembering so many holidays with you and your family. Especially Christmas Eve. Loves to you.

  3. Happy New Year to you, too, Kristabel! The famed crab casserole … mm-m-m! We transported the required ingredients to Chico on Christmas Eve so that the traditional meal would not be missed. We even took the Half-and-Half, since the Chavez family does not indulge in such things. The only difference in my recipe … I make my own bread crumbs (chunked up stale bread of any variety) in the oven with lots of butter (of course) and garlic salt, baking them til their crispy and then putting them on the top of the casserole before it goes in the oven. I love you for loving traditions. Love, Jo-Mama

  4. A favorite with my family is crab puffs (not the Chinese variety). Bite-sized eclair puffs filled crab mixed with mayo and chopped onions. Easy (if you buy the puffs) and delicious.

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