This easy appetizer is a great way to incorporate fresh local seafood

The name “seafood spread” too modestly describes this quite flexible little recipe.

I picked it up in 1985 from friend and garden club member Marty Booker, who brought it to our annual garden club meeting banquet. I thought it was wonderful and served it recently to friends who kept coming back for more.

You can serve it hot or cold as a dip or spread. For a spread, I serve this cold with fairly plain crackers. For a dip, I heat it in the oven or in the microwave, and I serve it with raw vegetables or crostinis, pitas or crisps.

Cream cheese forms the base, into which you toss the seafood, add a little soy sauce, then decorate the top with cocktail sauce – which some of you might know is basically ketchup with ground horseradish added.

In fact, the seafood portion can be canned or fresh crabmeat, lobster, clams, tiny shrimp, tuna, or salmon. It just needs to be crumbled or cut into small pieces so it can be mixed with the cream cheese. If you run out of cream cheese, you can replace the ricotta with a little mixed mayonnaise, a soft goat cheese or cottage cheese beaten with a little cream or sour cream mixed in to smooth it out.

You may have a favorite cocktail sauce to use. When I don’t, I use ketchup and add prepared horseradish to taste.

This means that to whip up an instant appetizer, all you need is some canned or frozen seafood, a packet of cream cheese and a jar of cocktail sauce or a bottle of ketchup and a small pot of horseradish. If you always have soy sauce on hand, good for you. You can actually leave it out and it will taste good either way.

If you serve it cold, mount the mixture of fresh cheese and seafood on a serving plate, then spread the cocktail sauce on it, and garnish if you wish with a little parsley, capers or chopped chives. To serve hot, mix all ingredients together and heat until loose and bubbly.

There were minimal leftovers spread out from a recent batch. For breakfast, I picked up a huge handful of spinach which I softened in a frying pan in olive oil. I dropped a few drops of spread here and there, then added an egg on top. I covered the pan and cooked everything until the spread softened and the egg yolk was runny but the white was firm. Was it ever good.

Seafood spread

Makes about a cup and a half of spread.

1 small can (about 6 ounces) crabmeat

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 teaspoon of soy sauce

½ cup cocktail sauce (or ½ cup ketchup plus 4 tablespoons prepared horseradish)

Parsley, capers or chopped chives for garnish

Mix seafood and cream and arrange on a plate.

Refrigerate.

Spread the cocktail sauce (or, alternatively, the combined ketchup and horseradish) on top of the cream cheese and seafood mixture.

Garnish with your choice of herbs or capers.

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