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Lump Crab, Orange, and Fennel Salad

Updated: Nov 5, 2023

A refreshingly colorful and delicious green salad crowned with luscious jumbo lump crab.

Lump Crab, Orange, and Fennel Salad

For the printable recipe click here.

​​Memories of restaurants past

Have you ever had a favorite dish at an out-of-town restaurant that you dream about and drool about until the next time you can visit?

​That was the lump crab salad at Sophie's Bistro for me.

Not the mayo-based kind of salad that's scooped into sandwiches, but rather an artful assemblage of delicate lump crab and sweet-tart orange segments atop an array of fresh greens.

When Sophie's closed, I was distraught at the thought of severing my relationship with my beloved salad, so I eagerly set about creating a copycat version.

However, every attempt I put forth was barely edible--like not just missing the bullseye, but shooting the arrow backwards. It was bad.

I couldn't remember all the components of the salad; I couldn't get the balance of flavors right; it wasn't going well.

Since crab can be pretty pricey--and I was basically throwing it away with my horrendous efforts--I canned the copycat-creating for a long, long time.

​But recently the idea started calling to me again. I had to try it. One. More. Time.

An interesting marriage of flavors

One of the things I LOVED about the Sophie's salad was perhaps the main thing I couldn't get right in all my attempts: creamy, tangy chunks of blue cheese complementing the crab.

The use of cheese with seafood is highly controversial.

Some chefs simply won't go there, while fictional TV mom and cookbook author Beverly Goldberg's signature dish famously combines shellfish and parmesan.

Fans of tuna noodle casserole (like chef Demaris Phillips who beat Bobby Flay with her recipe) seem to at least enjoy that combo, so that must be something.

I'm not entirely sure my thoughts on the matter, but I can tell you that at Sophie's, it worked. Perhaps the secret was in picking the right complementary ingredients to create that evasive harmony of flavors.

The missing pieces

So I knew there were salad greens. And crab. And orange segments. And blue cheese.

But what was I missing?

I'd enjoyed other salads with citrus segments, shaved fennel, and red onions, so I thought those two additions would be a good place to start. Fresh basil and toasted pine nuts felt right, so now it was all hinging on the dressing.

In the past I just couldn't get this part right--the part that truly ties it all together. I had tried various vinaigrettes, but the balance was never there.

This time I went with an orange dijon dressing that hit all the right notes. A refreshing combination of extra-virgin olive oil, fresh orange juice and zest, Dijon mustard, honey, shallot, garlic, and white balsamic vinegar, it gets creamy and emulsified in the blender and brings all the flavors into perfect harmony. Champagne vinegar, white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, or apple cider vinegar could be used instead of the white balsamic if needed. Dark balsamic is not the best choice for this salad, as it overpowers and stains the crab.

Lump Crab, Orange, and Fennel Salad notes

To create the perfect lump crab, orange, and fennel salad, there are just a few considerations:

1. Toast the pine nuts in a dry pan till golden all over: this brings out all their nutty, buttery flavor. Just be sure to watch them and shake them occasionally so they don't burn!

2. Use Cara Cara oranges if possible (their flesh is super sweet and flavorful with a gorgeous ruby hue), and supreme your oranges to create clean, juicy segments. If you are making the dressing the same day as the salad, you can zest the orange for the dressing before supreming the orange for the salad.

cutting off the skin to "supreme" the cara cara orange

If you've never supremed an orange or haven't had great success with it in the past, here's a 4-minute video on the Five Monsters method:

3. Shave very thin slices of red onion and fennel. I like to use a mandolin for the fennel bulb, but I feel like a very sharp knife works best for the red onion. When using a mandolin, I like to wear a Kevlar "cut glove" to protect my fingertips.

wearing a "cut glove" to slice a fennel bulb on the mandolin

4. Use real crab meat. Jumbo lump crab if possible. The fresher the better. It's the star of the show, so avoid imitation crab meat if possible.

5. I like a mix of baby greens, such as half baby arugula and half baby red and green lettuces.

6. Don't be too heavy handed with the blue cheese. It's there for creamy, tangy, surprising pops of flavor, but you don't want it to overpower the delicate crab. I like to use gorgonzola dulce for its slight sweetness, but I try to avoid the more intensely funky rind parts. I just use a fork to plop little chunks here and there across the salad.

7. The salad can be prepared in one large bowl or platter, or the ingredients can be carefully layered on individual serving plates if desired.

8. For a little extra spice, feel free to grind a little black pepper or sprinkle a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes across the top to finish.

Lump Crab, Orange, and Fennel Salad

Here's what you'll need:

  • 5 oz mixed baby greens, such as baby red butter lettuce, baby romaine, and baby arugula

  • 1/4 cup (or your preferred amount) Orange Dijon Dressing

  • up to 1/2 fennel bulb, very thinly sliced

  • up to 1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced

  • up to 2 Cara Cara oranges, supremed (cut into segments)

  • 8 oz jumbo lump crab meat, strained to remove excess juices

  • 2 oz gorgonzola dulce or your favorite relatively mild blue cheese, crumbled/broken into chunks with a fork

  • 1-2 T toasted pine nuts

  • several leaves fresh basil, torn or chiffonaded (cut into thin ribbons)

  • freshly cracked black pepper or crushed red pepper flakes, to taste, if desired

Here's what you'll do:

  1. If desired, toss the greens (or the greens, red onion, and fennel) with the salad dressing before plating them on individual serving plates or one large serving platter. Otherwise, place the greens (or greens, red onion, and fennel) on the platter and drizzle dressing over the top.

  2. Layer/arrange the remaining ingredients in the order listed to display their contrasting colors.

Lump Crab, Fennel, and Orange Salad

For the printable recipe click here.

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Hey Y'all!

I'm the Monster Momma.

I'm a Christ-follower, wife, mother to five sweet paleo monsters, writer, and

paleo food fiend.

Join me and my family on our paleo journey!

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