Krab pasta salad is a dish I’m famous for. Well, famous within my family, who are very discriminating. From time to time I’ve heard “The salad is different this time”, which makes me shake my head. I make it the same way each time but a squirt of this and a glug of that can sometimes vary just enough so that the taste is not exact the same each time.
It almost makes me nervous to try to maintain my own established standards! So I write this recipe with trepidation, because I’ve never measured the ingredients and stuck to it that closely. I measured them when I made the pasta salad this particular time, but even I think it’s not exact. You can play around with amounts and seasonings, it’s not going to be BAD, just not the SAME each time.
I start with a 12 ounce box of small shell pasta (or 3 small boxes depending on the brand) and boil it in salted water until al dente. Then I rinse it in cold water to stop the cooking and put it into my big mixing bowl. Al dente is the secret to this pasta, because it will soak up the dressing and be a little less al dente as it sits in the fridge. You don’t want to start the salad with a soggy, overdone pasta because then it will be really mushy and fall apart later after it has absorbed dressing.
I use imitation krab, because we like it. Yes, we like real crab and do eat that, but for this salad it is what I first used and we must keep to the same old same old, as I said previously. It doesn’t matter whether you use the krab that comes in sticks or the chunky flakes; you’re going to dice it into small pieces anyway. Once it’s all diced, add it to the large bowl with the pasta.
I add four other ingredients at this stage: diced green onions, a can of water chestnuts I finely dice, a can of black olives I finely dice and a small jar of pimentos I’ve drained and diced. The pimentos often come diced but I dice them smaller. They add a small amount of flavor to the salad, but are more for color. I’ve thought of just dicing up some sweet red bell pepper and sautéing them and adding them to the salad, but the taste would be “different”, and with my family I aim for their perfection level. So no red peppers.
The water chestnuts are a small crunch that are more of a tradition than a necessary flavor. They’re mostly that mysterious bit that newcomers to our table ask about. It’s an unexpected texture rather than flavor.
Now we move on to the dressing, the make it or break it part of the salad. This is the part where I get the comments that it is “different” or “just not the same” on occasion. I first have to mention again that my family members are almost all sensitive to msg, which is put in so many foods and salad dressings. We love ranch dressing, Hidden Valley or otherwise, but it is evil to us. So I have to make a copycat version of my own and exclude the evil ingredient.
Sometimes I have it made and on hand, sometimes not. But I do put a ½ cup of ranch in this salad dressing so if I don’t have it on hand I improvise. I end up putting extra garlic powder, onion powder, buttermilk, and dill weed in the dressing. Those ingredients are the main part of any ranch dressing, and it seems to work well for me to substitute them for the actual dressing. I’ve listed those ingredients in the recipe, but if you can eat ranch out of a bottle, you’re free to use that instead. It’s much easier and I envy you!
I whisk together the dressing ingredients, minus the vinegar. When they are smooth I add the glug of vinegar and whisk again. The vinegar serves to curdle the milk and buttermilk, which is good because it thickens our dressing. I mean it curdles it in a GOOD kind of way! When it is thickened and blended, I pour it over the rest of the salad in the bowl and stir. I taste test it but that’s difficult to judge at this stage because the dressing needs to be pretty salty and peppery until it soaks into the pasta. The dressing will be strong; that’s necessary.
The pasta salad is always made a day ahead of eating it so it can soak and mingle and be sociable amongst itself. If I think of it I will give it a stir later in the evening and again in the morning to keep it all evenly marinating. Not totally necessary, but a nice touch if you remember.
I am content to eat a bowl of this salad as a meal; it has protein and the rest is pure comfort food to me. But we do most often eat it as a side dish when we’re also throwing meat on the grill. It’s a summer dish for us because it’s nice to have on hand when it’s hot out and we’re grilling. The salad will last for 5 or 6 days in the fridge if it’s not left sitting out for periods of time.
The taste of the salad is a light ranch dressing with a freshness from the green onions. I don’t think the krab tastes fishy; it tastes more like corn if anything. At times I’ve had to add another ¼ cup or so of milk or buttermilk the next day as the pasta has soaked up the dressing almost to the point of dryness. But that’s pretty rare.
Krab Pasta Salad
12 oz small shell pasta
12-16 oz imitation crab (I like Morey’s but any will do)
3 cups mayonnaise (you could make your own but I use Kraft)
1 cup milk
¼ cup green onions
1 small can water chestnuts; finely diced
1 large can black olives; finely diced
1 small jar pimentos; drained and finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup white vinegar (add last)
Ranch dressing ingredients:
½ cup buttermilk
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon dill weed
½ teaspoon onion powder
Prepare pasta according to box instructions. Drain and run under cold water to stop cooking. Put in large mixing bowl.
Dice krab into small pieces, add to bowl. Dice water chestnuts and green onions; add to bowl.
Measure dressing and ranch dressing ingredients (or bottled ranch dressing) into a pitcher and whisk together. Add vinegar and whisk until thick and smooth. Pour over salad ingredients in bowl and stir well. Store salad in a covered container in the fridge, stirring occasionally.
If salad gets a bit dry, stir in another ¼ cup or so of milk or buttermilk.