HYDE PARK, N.Y. – If the success of a dish was determined solely by its appearance, this salad of crab and avocado would win hands down.
Chilled crabmeat, buttery avocado, zesty salsa, and creme fraiche combine beautifully in the little layered salad, giving it an array of textures and colors and the variety of complementary ingredients.
The result is worth the extra time and effort needed to build its impressive structure. To create the colorful layers, use ring molds measuring 2 inches in diameter by 1 1/2 inches in height. The molds help to produce the salad’s precise shape and height.
Following are instructions for making ring molds using aluminum foil. Although the process is tedious and time-consuming, it’s inexpensive. Pre-assembled ring molds can also be purchased at restaurant and kitchen supplies stores for about $3 each.
To make aluminum-foil ring molds:
1. Gather aluminum foil, a pair of scissors, a roll of tape and a ruler.
2. Measure and cut eight pieces of foil 6 inches in width by 12 inches in length.
3. Place one piece of foil on a flat surface with the shorter end facing you.
4. Starting from the bottom of the sheet, create a 11/4-inch fold.
5. Make seven more folds (for a total of eight folds; the folded strip will end up 1 1/2 inches high).
6. Bring the two ends together so they overlap 1/4 -inch; secure with tape.
7. Adjust foil to create a smooth circle.
8. Repeat process with remaining foil.
To produce a larger serving, follow the same instructions but increase the size of the mold. For example, use squares of foil that are 12 inches wide by 12 inches long. Using the same quantity of ingredients, you can produce four satisfying portions. Consider serving this larger salad with a bottle of wine and a loaf of crusty French bread for a light lunch.
Olivier Andreini, associate professor in culinary arts at The Culinary Institute of America, suggests an easy method to make ring molds.
“Go to your local hardware store and purchase pieces of PVC pipe in the diameter you need, then have the store cut it to the desired height. The molds are dishwasher safe and can be used repeatedly.
Salad of crab and avocado
1large red bell pepper (about 1/2 pound)
1large yellow bell pepper (about 1/2 pound)
1tablespoon olive oil
1/4cup red onion, finely chopped
2teaspoons minced garlic
2teaspoons chopped cilantro
1/2jalapeno, seeds removed, cut into fine dice (about 1 tablespoon)
2ripe avocados, peeled, cut into 1/4 -quarter inch dice
2tablespoons lime juice
1/3cup creme fraiche, sour cream or yogurt
1cup crabmeat, picked over (8 ounces)
Paprika, as needed
8cilantro sprigs for garnish
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and prepare foil ring molds according to previous directions, reserve for later use.
Rub each pepper with olive oil. Roast peppers on rack in the oven until the skin becomes loose, about 35 to 45 minutes. Do not allow the peppers to color. When cool enough to handle, remove the skin and the seeds from the peppers.
While peppers are roasting, cut an X into the bottom of the tomato. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Drop the tomato into the water. After 10 to 15 seconds, remove it with a slotted spoon. Immediately plunge the tomato into the ice water to stop the cooking process. Pull away the skin and cut the tomato in half. Gently squeeze out the seeds. Dice the tomato (to make 3/4 cup) and reserve for salsa.
Puree the different colors of peppers separately in a food processor and pass each color through a fine-mesh strainer. Season each with a dash of salt and a pinch of pepper. Set aside and reserve for later use.
About an hour before molding, mix the tomato, onion, garlic, cilantro and jalapeno to form a salsa. Combine the avocado, lime juice, salt and a pinch of pepper.
For each portion, in the foil mold, layer avocado mixture, tomato salsa and crabmeat. Press each layer into the mold gently. Make sure the last layer is pressed firmly into the mold. Spoon creme fraiche, sour cream or yogurt on top of the crab and smooth it even with the rim of the ring mold. Lightly dust with paprika.
Transfer the filled ring to the center of an 8-inch plate and carefully lift off the ring mold. Place a cilantro leaf as garnish on top of each salad. Garnish the plates with the red and yellow pepper puree.
Makes 8 servings.
From the Culinary Institute of America’s “Garde Manger, The Art and Craft of the Cold Kitchen”