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What sides should I make for my annual crab boil?

Hounds, flex your creative muscles!

My husband and I are getting ready for our third annual crab boil for 4th of July, and I need some ideas of new sides to make. This is a potluck, so we always end up with a ton of random stuff from steaks and hotdogs and frito pie to kalbi "sushi" and peach cobbler. Usually, I make the following:

crab boil (which has potatoes and shrimp and veggies and all that normal junk)
NC style pulled pork with sandwich fixings
Store-bought potato salad
Grilled corn
giant bowl o alcoholic punch (tbd by husband.)

This year, I have more time leading up to the actual day so I'd like to make some more exciting stuff, however we have a few limitations.
1) We live in NYC and, while our apartment is pretty big, we don't have a TON of counter space or fridge space. For this reason, things like salads that can be room temp-ish are good (bowls take up less footprint) and things like deviled eggs are not good.
2) I will have basically no time on the 4th to actually cook anything we we spend the morning hours picking up crabs/lobsters/kegs/ice etc. So make ahead STRONGLY preferred.
3) It's going to be hot, so using the oven on that day is not ideal but can be done in advance.
4) I am a good enough baker of easy stuff (muffins, biscuits, brownies, etc) but not of pie crusts or anything overly sensitive.

So basically I'm looking for some interesting, make ahead, doesn't-need-to-sit-on-a-tray types of dishes. We expect about 45 people, but it doesn't need to feed that many.

What would YOU like to eat at a crabboil!?

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  1. One of my all time favorite meals is steamed Dungeness crab, a big green salad, hot sourdough bread, and a glass of chardonnay.

    1. Seeing as you're having crab and pork I'd like a nice fennel salad.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Paprikaboy

        Ooo this is a good idea! I always forget about fennel and am surprised by how much I like it. Do you have a specific recipe you like?

        1. re: CarmenR

          Usually I just slice it as thinly as possible and toss in a vinaigrette and shave on some parmesan and maybe a few torn basil leaves.Sometimes add thin slices of chargrilled courgettes. Obviously may want to adapt it a little to go with the crab.

          1. re: CarmenR

            I love fennel and citrus - blood orange, grapefruit, etc. A little something bitter, like endive or radicchio, also goes well. Toss it all in a vinaigrette and you're good to go (and this is fine room temp-ish, doesn't need to be fridge cold).

        2. That picture looks good enough to eat!

          Do you serve cole slaw with the pulled pork?

          I might add bread and sliced watermelon and/or grapes.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Tara57

            I do! I get supermarket coleslaw for authenticity sake (growing up in NC we didn't *do* gourmet slaw!)

            We do usually have bread as someone generally brings roughly 5 lbs of cheese...

          2. Your boil looks great!! Looks like you have more or less the traditional boil - but I noticed that there are potatoes in the boil and then a side potato salad. You could consider putting other veggies in the boil. Cauliflower is really good, seems to adsorb the flavors well. Also green beans, asparagus, orange beet chunks, whole peppers, mushrooms near the end, etc.If there are a lot of purists coming, then that might not work. I get tired of the typical potatoes, sausage, and corn in our crawfish boils, so I always add something non-traditional. You already have a varied mix. I guess that's from last year?

            Plus, you will have 20 other side dishes that the guests will bring!

            1 Reply
            1. re: rudeboy

              I'm guessing many of the guests are from New York City and haven't gotten anywhere near bored with the traditional ingredients.

            2. I have, to very good effect, contrasted cold items against the crab. A standard 1950's cheater's tomato aspic (see any spiral-bound cookbook from the Eisenhower era) or a daube glace (see any creole cookbook--you can cheat with Knox gelatine. For the Fourth of July, who cares?) I'll put the jelied things in ice cube trays and make a few dozen of them in advance. They will melt in ahurry so have some means of keeping them cold.

              Also, gazapcho works or I've used cold watercress soup, or a cold spinach and lemon cream soup. Anything for the contrast.

              1. Coleslaw, Cornbread, and a Melon for desert

                1. How about a summertime wild rice salad? For some reason it was the first thing that popped into my head. Google turns up plenty of recipe ideas good for the warm weather.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: alliegator

                    funny you should mention that, I actually made a summer orzo salad yesterday! I could def double the recipe- I love using orzo for those salads since it's so small volume-wise.

                  2. I don't know, to my mind crab and crawfish boils don't need additional side dishes ( except maybe barbecue shrimp for an appetizer) since they already have potato and corn. It's a one pot meal in my book.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: rasputina

                      It would be if we actually served it like a meal, but its more like a giant, roving 8 hour long garden party where we do two batches of boil but then people obv want to eat in between. Plus, let's be honest, those crabs have only a teenytiny amount of meat in them. They're really not even my scene, but people love them and they're cheap enough!

                      1. re: CarmenR

                        People do love em and bless you for enabling those people.

                    2. Sounds like a great meal.

                      Other than a small keg or two of beer (some bottles of obscure beers on ice for the finicky types), an assortment of inexpensive still/sparkling/rose wines (not a fan of punch), I think you have it covered. An abundance of cheapo cloth towels may be in order. Wooden mallets and picks might prove helpful.

                      1. This simple carrot salad is one of my favorites right now- but you can't use the preshredded carrots you buy! So a food processor or mandoline with a shredding blade would be key.

                        And this raw corn and radish salad is very refreshing.

                        Otherwise i would just want napkins, a cold adult beverage and a thick slice of watermelon...:)

                        1. Not really a side but some sliced citrus may compliment the spiciness of the boil. Also, I'd like cornbread but I'm a sucker like that.

                          How about cucumber water?

                          1. The most interesting part of this thread to me is that this crab boil takes place in a NYC apartment. That in itself seems like a feat.

                            I side with those here who believe a crab (or shrimp or crawfish) boil with sausage, potato, corn, etc., is a self-contained meal that needs no sides. But if I were forced to make one, I'd say cole slaw would be as traditional as could be. By the way, it's really easy to make coleslaw rather than buy a supermarket version. I like to mix in some purple cabbage along with the standard green cabbage.

                            1. Mushrooms, brussel sprouts, celery cooked with the crabs are always good as they absorb the seasonings well

                              1. I know you mentioned you weren't fond of having to run your oven - but some garlic bread would go great with all of this, and as a second reason to light the oven - bake the tortilla chips at the same time. Warm chips right out of the oven are a nice touch too.

                                1. Half inch thick cucumber slices with carrots cut into 2" matchsticks. Toss with good amount of sea salt. Minimum of oil and vinegar. Some black pepper. Refrigerate 6 hours. Serve cold.

                                  3 parts cucumber which must be thick sliced--one part carrots

                                  A cool palate cleanser

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: lastZZ

                                    This is great and I can use my mandolin to whip this up quickly, I think!