Puerto Rican Salmorejo (Stewed Crab and Tomatoes with Rice) Recipe
Salmorejo (stewed crab) has a very special place in my heart. This comforting recipe always reminds me of my late suegro (father-in-law) who was actually my husband Hector’s maternal grandfather, Abuelo Toño. This is the person who raised Hector from the age of nine until he joined the Army at age 17.
When I came home to meet Abuelo for the first time, he made Salmorejo de Jueyes. He was so excited to cook for a chef who was going to be his future daughter-in-law!
HUNTING FOR CRABS IN PUERTO RICO
Abuelo told me how the man from whom he bought his land crabs hunts them in the mangroves of Loíza, Puerto Rico (a town in the northeastern part of the island).
To purge the gaminess out of the crab’s diet and improve their taste, Abuelo would throw them into the center of an old truck tire and feed them corn and rice. He knew the crabs were ready for the pot when their legs grew hairy.
Taking that first bite of salmorejo and white rice instantly transports me to Abuelo’s patio and seeing his face full of pride over my satisfaction.
The traditional salmorejo is the Puerto Rican equivalent of a New England Lobster Boil or a Cajun Crawfish Boil — in other words, it’s a labor-intensive family affair. This is because it takes a while to trap and purge the crabs, steam them, pick the meat, and, finally, prepare the salmorejo; it’s typically all hands on deck.
Thankfully, with the quality canned crab meat that’s now available, the process becomes much shorter and therefore enjoyable.
Caribbean Salmorejo vs. Spanish Salmorejo
Don’t confuse this Caribbean version of salmorejo with the Spanish version, which is a tomato and bread soup. I’m sure Spanish salmorejo was the predecessor for our Puerto Rican version, but the similarities end with the name and use of tomatoes.
While its proper name is Salmorejo de Jueyes, on the island and in other countries where this is made, it’s referred to simply as “salmorejo.”
THE KEY INGREDIENTS FOR SALMOREJO
I’m happy to see that international cuisines are becoming so popular these days, which means you should be able to find the ingredients used in this recipe, such as sazón and recaito, in the Hispanic foods section of your grocery store without trouble.
Be sure to buy sazón “con culantro y achiote” (with coriander and annatto), because it gives the dish its unique reddish-orange color and flavor.
The mini sweet peppers used in this recipe are found with the bell peppers in the produce section. These small, multi-colored peppers have a milder, sweeter flavor than traditional bell peppers; if you can’t find them, feel free to use a mix of red, yellow and/or orange bell peppers.
The olive/capers mix is known as “alcaparrado” brings a salty-umami flavor to most Hispanic stews and meat dishes. You can find Manzanilla olives stuffed with pimentos and the capers in the pickle section of your grocery store. If you’re not a fan of the pair, just omit them and increase the salt in the recipe to 1 1/4 teaspoon instead.
HOW TO SHOP FOR CRAB MEAT
Sadly, most of us have to purchase processed crabmeat, but that’s okay with me. It means less prep and less waiting until dinner. Just make sure you feel through the meat for any rogue bits of shell. Discard any that you find.
A mix of lump, backfin, and/or claw crabmeat is ideal because it closely mimics the whole crab that is traditionally used in the recipe.
If you have access to fresh crabs, by all means, use those! Blue crabs are the best type of crab to use because they’re economical and flavorful. You’ll just need to steam them fully prior to picking the meat to use in the recipe.
HOW TO MAKE and SERVE SALMOREJO
Don’t let the “stew” in the name discourage you. This full-flavored dish is ready in under thirty minutes. The sauce base is sautéed and quickly simmered for just a few minutes, and then the crab meat is gently folded in.
Serving it over steamed white rice is the best way to enjoy salmorejo’s many flavors. If you multi-task and steam the rice while you’re prepping the stew, you’ll have ready on the table in a jiffy.
A great accompaniment is thinly sliced green plantain chips that are deep fried until crispy. Platanutres, or plantain chips, can sometimes be found in the Hispanic foods section of your grocery store.
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