The Chicken Crab Conundrum

2015.Jun.18 Thursday · 2 comments

in Food & Recipes, Life

It’s been awhile since we had a Reinventing the Whisk challenge – almost three months in fact. We’ve all been a bit busy, with our attentions turned to other things. Perhaps that’s part of what led to what faced off to be a challenge of a blank white canvas – I picked white button mushrooms, Jennifer picked chicken breast, and Kevin picked crab. I’ll let them launch into this first.


Chives, ginger, shallot, lime, cream all go together well and can bring out special notes in both the mushroom and crab. The chicken I’m not very worried about, doesn’t chicken go with anything and everything?

Because crab is so expensive I decided to make something I’m rather comfortable with, Thai food. So I diced up ginger, garlic, shallots, red pepper, chilies, chive and cilantro. Got my lime juice together, pulled out the ponzu and soy sauces and plugged in the trusty rice cooker. I really like using a rice cooker, they are so dependable.

In an effort to individualize some of the flavors the rice took on a hefty amount of cilantro and was cooked in chicken stock. I screwed up my first round of coconut milk so I opened a new can and seasoned in steps tasting for salt and sweet using soy, sugar, salt and then finally a bit of coriander.

The rest was simple – through in the garlic, ginger, shallot, red pepper and hot chilis into a not-hot-enough pan and worked up the heat while adding the mushrooms, crab, chicken and finally the coconut milk. Before serving I added the chives and garnished with lemon.

Like always in these experimental episodes I learn something new. In this case, I really need to start taking my knife skills to the next level, I need better presentation and I need to master coconut milk. Also, I think I’m always going to be underwhelmed if I stay in my comfort zone. I should have tried to make a Caribbean Iguana dish – Iguana supposedly tastes like chicken and crab. I could have been the real Maccoy, ya know?

– Kevin Hopp


White button mushrooms. Chicken Breast. Crab. Sounds like the makings of the ladies’ luncheon over at the Republican-Democrat Club in Dacron, Ohio, doesn’t it? Well, I nominated chicken breast, just because I’ve hadn’t cooked any for a long time. Of all the fungi in the world, Dan had to go and opt for white button mushrooms. You know, the kind that were the only kind of mushrooms most of knew when we were growing up, pristine, fetal gateways to the mushroom world. But I had an inkling that Dan and Kevin had something greater in mind than chicken a la king fancied up with a sprinkling of crab. And whatever they would make wouldn’t be white and dainty.

Crab is not easily available, much less affordable, where I live. Sure, Costco could deliver just about whatever I wanted, provided I was willing to pay and wait until Tuesday. I’m in surimi country, and rather than touch that stuff, I settled for canned crab. (I did contemplate unscrupulously passing off tilapia shavings as crab.)

I toyed with making mushroom- or crab-stuffed chicken breast. Too pedestrian. Crab-stuffed mushroom caps. Yeah, just like Stouffer’s. I couldn’t risk losing face by tossing it all together with pasta. Or even something vaguely Asian.

Here’s what I did:
Balsamic roasted mushrooms with tomatoes. Served room temperature or warm.

Warm shredded chicken and crab salad with mango chili salsa. Or pineapple.

Hoya Santa strips for anise flavor


– Jennifer


I have to admit, my thoughts kind of followed on Jennifer’s at the beginning, almost exactly. I kept picturing family meals of chicken a la king, or a take on turkey tetrazzini post thanksgiving. I considered slices of chicken breast topped with a delicate crab mousse and some sort of mushroom sauce. Then I thought about something Asian, probably Thai, there are soups that sort of fit the bill. I did a bit of an image search online and even came up with an interesting sounding sort of steamed turnip cake with crabmeat, similar to the daikon cakes I wrote about in the last post but steamed, and then broiled in the oven with chicken skin on top to give a crunch to it. It was a thought. In the end, I’m not sure that I strayed all that far from a la king territory.

I poached a chicken breast on the bone in an intense mushroom stock made from some of the button mushrooms plus the stems of the remaining ones, punched up with some portobellos, dried Chilean black mushrooms, and dried shiitakes, plus some shallots, all pureed together and then brought to a boil. I slipped the breast into the boiling liquid, let it come back to a boil, then turned the heat off and covered the pot with a tight fitting lid. Left it for 30 minutes and then removed the breast, cut it from the bone and sliced it. Cooked perfectly, though other than the surface, there was little in the way of mushroom flavor.

The sauce, okay, here it gets a little icky. Like Jennifer, I have little to no access to fresh crab meat, at least at a reasonable price – I’d have to buy a half kilo package of frozen spider crab meat and/or legs from Patagonia, which would have run almost 700 pesos. I found a tin of canned crab meat – 2 ounces of the stuff – for 280 pesos. Not happening either. My first impulse was to just buy some prawns and announce a substitution by necessity, and that’s what I should have done given the results. But I spotted a small tin of crab pate and thought, for some inexplicable reason, that I could whisk it into a sauce. Basically I made a beurre blanc and whisked some of the pate into it. It immediately went all grainy, and pretty much had the flavor I imagine from smelling tins of cat food. I gamely tried to save it, adding some peas, some chopped up mushrooms, but it was just un-salvageable.

You’d think at that point I wouldn’t have spooned it across the chicken breast slices (which I’d neatly laid atop some quickly cooked buckwheat soba noodles tossed with a little butter. But I did. I mean, the whole point was to do the work and try the dish, no? You can see where it would have been better to saute some prawns, or perhaps small, baby shrimp, and toss them into the beurre blanc. Oh how much better the dish would have been. To garnish, slices across the cap of the button mushroom dusted with mushroom powder and salt (probably better without the salt, which makes them start to sweat). As it was, after a few bites, I scraped the sauce off and ate the chicken and noodles with some soy sauce splashed over it.

– Dan

jennifer rose June 24, 2015 at 16:58

I really blew it this time, sending in my notes instead of a description of what I ended up making and its evaluation. So, if anyone’s still reading, here’s the rest of the story:

Here’s what I did:
Roasted mushrooms, tossed with a touch of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Served at room temperature.
The canned crab found its way into a salad of white beans, red onions, rosemary, lemon zest, lemon juice, and mint oil. Next time, I’d substitute canned tuna if I couldn’t come up with anything better than canned crab. Or nothing at all.
And on to the chicken. I’d tossed the skin- and bone-free pale crescents of protein in the freezer anticipating that I’d neatly slice it all up while half-frozen, but I forgot to remove them before they were as hard as ice cubes. And I’d go on to learn another lesson: the Cuisinart is useless when it comes to slicing up frozen chicken breasts. Thirty minutes on the counter rendered them sliceable and ready for the soy-ginger-sake marinade to which I’d stirred in some cornstarch and baking soda. Twenty minutes later, I sautéed them in the cast iron frying pan that’s become my current favorite for some odd reason. After the nearly-done chicken was removed from the pan, I stir-fried scallions, serrano chile strips, mangos, and half-inch slices of unpeeled Persian cucumbers for a few minutes, adding the chicken back in for the final minute. And I served that over a bed of baby arugula.
And now for the postprandial analysis. The crab salad was mediocre. I was pleased with the chicken dish, which would’ve been better had I served it over rice or mixed in some rice noodles or bean threads instead of over arugula. The roasted mushrooms were the real sleeper: so easy, so obvious, and I wondered why I’ve never made them before.
There were two more lessons I took away from this evening’s encounter: stir-frying in canola oil isn’t a ticket to hell and perdition, and you really can cook with cucumbers. Thank you, Dan, for the advice and encouragement. It’s always a blast to cook with you and Kevin.

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