L.A. meets New Orleans when you put some zing in this springtime crab salad sandwich

gif of hands picking up a crab sandwich cut in half, with potato chips and gherkins on the side
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

In California springtime, bursts of beautiful flowers always smell just as great as they look. One of my favorite things is walking through a neighborhood and getting an unexpected whiff of jasmine. Farmers markets are brimming with peas, young garlic, onion shoots and all sorts of first-of-the-season potatoes, fennel and asparagus that might inspire us to eat like rabbits for a few months. But when I think of spring, particularly late April through early June, I always think of crab.

Growing up in the South, and when living on the East Coast, I’d often take trips to New Orleans at this time of the year because the weather there is perfect; the winter chill has left but it’s not oppressively, humidly hot just yet. If you’ve been there at this time, you know that every restaurant in the city has one special on its menu: soft-shell crab. The crabs — almost always domestic blue crabs — molt their hard outer shells in the spring, leaving them with paper-thin exoskeletons. They’re then plucked from the shallow waters and sold, ripe for dredging in flour and crisping up in the deep fryer. When instant delivery provides you with just about anything you want to eat at any time, you appreciate all the more a delicacy you can get for only a short time once a year.

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And even if I eat at a restaurant there that doesn’t have soft-shells, it’s bound to have crab salad on the menu, especially if it’s of the century-old-French-restaurant variety like Galatoire’s. I go there specifically for the crab maison, a tangle of crab meat bound with mayonnaise spiked with Creole mustard and dotted with capers and scallions. The crab is rich and the mustard, scallions and capers cut through that with a bracing punch that always wakes me up after waiting in line for an hour to get in. It’s substantial but also feels light, an ideal balance.


Inspired by that salad and a renewed obsession with tuna salad sandwiches, brought about by the one at Bub & Grandma’s that also uses mustard — albeit the yellow French’s variety — I’ve decided to start a new tradition of making myself a crab salad sandwich in spring. If I can’t get to New Orleans for my yearly springtime crab ritual, I can at least re-create it in a new way for myself at home.

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In lieu of mustard, though, I go with a bright, lemony vinaigrette; it has enough punch to cut through the richness of the crab without dominating the crustacean’s flavor the way a yellow or Dijon mustard would. Going mayo-less is out of character for me, but in this instance it works wonderfully since the richness that mayo brings will be provided, in this sandwich, by a brioche roll toasted up with butter and some torn Castelvetrano olives. On top of the crab, those olives mix with a green, pickle-y duo of sugar snap peas and gherkins to add crunch and more pops of spring brightness.

As for the crab meat itself, it would be a nice fantasy to tell you that I boil and pick it myself, but why lie? I go to the butcher shop and buy the best that they have. And while the jumbo lump that I’ve picked up from my local fishmonger was, indeed, creamier and richer than what I can find at the supermarket, I can attest that the crab from the supermarket also works fantastically well in this sandwich. When you cloak the crab meat in a bright vinaigrette and pair it with plenty of crunchy spring things, its best qualities shine. It’s a treatment that gives me the best of the nostalgia I have for crab in New Orleans but tailored to life in Southern California with all the fresh, veggie-forward flavors I now associate with the season.

Get the recipe:

Spring Crab Sandwich

Time 20 minutes
Yields Serves 2