Saturday, January 14, 2012

Spoletto Arts Festival and a Crabby Oscar!

In Charleston over the last 20 years a thriving restaurant scene has developed. It has blown up partly because of the growth of the "New Southern" food scene but also because there are so many young chefs who graduate from culinary school there and can get jobs and open restaurants there. This would be impossible to do without the scale of the dining out scene which exists there. Charleston is probably one of the top destinations for tourists both from the US and from Europe. The Low Country's amazing natural setting and access to the water along with it's historic charm keep it a magnet for seekers of all things southern, as well as lovers of it's coastal beauty and thriving arts scene. It attracts thousands of visitors a year and with those visitors had come the opportunity to grow a large varied and vibrant culinary marketplace. There is almost every level of cooking going on there from just plain food to foodie.

One of the most interesting and largest draws to Charleston is the Spoleto arts festival. Spoleto founded by the Italian composer Gian Carlo Mennotti is one of the largest fine arts festivals anywhere in the US. It rivals Santa Fe NM. as a draw for opera as well as other performing and fine arts fans alike. For 2 weeks each year starting the last week of May the city comes alive with performances and art exhibits, concerts and operas. It is a festive and convivial time and of course very busy for the city's hospitality industry.

When I was younger my friend Diana took me to a show at the Coconut Club one of the festival's creations, and then out to a late night dinner. The "late night" dinners were a special thing which took place at several establishments but only during the Festival season. they were terribly popular! One restaurant in town however, did it all year round. That was Marianne's. Marianne's was a French restaurant and had such great food and atmosphere. Brilliantly lit with candles and bathed in soft colors and furnished with old Antiques, it was so great! There was a woman there who played the piano in the evenings  and would regale us with cocktail standards and sing Patsy Cline songs into the night.

"Late night" menu meant brunch and burgers and such. It was a limited menu but had the most wonderful egg dishes on it as well as their famous onion soup. The dish that Diana introduced me to that evening and the one that kept me coming back over and over was the Crab Oscar Benedict! When it came to the table and was presented I was smitten. The crunchy english muffin topped by a delicious mixture of fresh crab salad and a layer of steamed asparagus crowned with a perfectly poached egg and blanketed in a creamy hollandaise sauce. YUM! It was heaven. I love that dish so much that I have recreated it for you as an alternative to the normal things you might make at home for breakfast, brunch or as in this case, late night snack.

Please Induge!

4 English Muffins Split and toasted and buttered
8 oz fresh jumbo lump crab meat 2oz per portion
2 tablespoons mayonnaise ( I like Dukes but the H word is OK)
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried french tarragon leaves
1 tablespoon fresh chives
6 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
12 pieces of asparagus poached in water and lemon juice
8  pre-poached eggs held in ice bath and reheated in warm water
1 cup blender Hollandaise ( recipe to follow)


Place English Muffin on plate
Mix next 5 ingredients to together
Spoon on muffins  and top with asparagus
Place on broiler pan sprinkle with the cheese
Broil till cheese is melted and browning and crab is heated through
Remove from broiler
Top with poached eggs that have been reheated
And spoon over the hollandaise

Enjoy warm

Blender Hollandaise

1 1/2 cups melted butter
6 egg yolks
4 tablespoon lemon juice
dash hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon dijon mustard
pinch of salt
pinch of white pepper

Pour seasoning and egg yolks and mustard into a blender ( that has been heated with hot water)  and pulse till combined
With the motor running slowly pour in the melted butter in a steady stream till the mixture becomes a thick sauce.
Reserve till you serve and reheat in Microwave for a few seconds
Pour over eggs

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