When it comes to the Lower Alabama Gulf Coast, there is no more quintessential dish than the West Indies Salad. It was (said to be) invented in Mobile, Alabama by William “Bill” Bayley, a former U.S. Merchant Marine who served on many voyages to the West Indies.
In 1947, Bayley, the Mobile, Alabama steak & seafood restaurateur combined his love for cucumbers and onions marinated in oil & vinegar, with the plentiful supply of blue crabs found on the Gulf Coast. Legend also has it that Bayley was the first man to batter and fry blue crab claws- the favorite finger food sold coast-to-coast in the US today, but he needed more dishes to make use of the lump meat. Bayley combining the crab meat with cider vinegar, onion, oil and ice cold water, named his creation “West Indies Salad”, to evoke memories of his travels and transport the minds and taste buds of his customers to the exotic islands.
Bayley’s patrons were head-over-heels for the dish and it soon was found on restaurant menu’s across the southeast. Now, 63 years later, it is still wildly popular and is a concrete staple on seafood restaurant and home cook menu’s today. With a little of the recipe altered, this West Indies Salad is definitely a favorite in our household, allowing the Jumbo Lump Crab take center stage.
West Indies Salad
1 small Vidalia onion, peeled and diced
1 lb. jumbo lump crabmeat (remove any shell-don’t break lumps)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1⁄2 cup vegetable oil
6 tbsp. cider vinegar
1/2 cup of ice cold water or crushed ice
Follow these instructions for best results-
Spread half of onion over bottom of large bowl
Cover with separated crab lumps
Add the remaining onion
Salt and pepper
Pour oil, vinegar and ice water over all
Cover and marinate 2-12 hours
Toss lightly before serving
Serve cold as a “salad” on a bed of lettuce, or in a small bowl with lemon wedge and Saltine Crackers on the side.
To achieve the optimum combination of sweet, acidic, and aromatic flavors, the marinating process is a must. Depending on how long you marinate, the flavor of the salad can be altered to suit your preference but two hours is the minimum, and I along with many others prefer at least twelve. This minimizes the onion taste while bringing out the vinegar to marry the flavors with the sweetness of the crab.
Variation: I have served this delicious preparation inside of a seeded, halved and peeled avocado topped off with a sprinkle of capers and fresh parsley, for a beautiful appetizer or lunch entree.