When it comes to South Alabama, there’s no more quintessential dish than the West Indies Salad. It was invented here in Alabama by William “Bill” Bayley, a former U.S. Merchant Marine who served on many voyages to the West Indies, and he made it fresh every day at his world-famous Bayley’s Restaurant in Mobile.
Nowadays, this uniquely Southern dish can be found in restaurants throughout the region—like Bob Baumhower’s Compleat Angler Seafood Grille & Bar. This particular iteration of the recipe comes from Chef Steve Zucker, executive chef for all of Baumhower’s restaurants. It’s a pretty simple one too, so if you know a good seafood market in your area that carries fresh lump crabmeat, give it a try. (And if you want a smaller yield, just cut every ingredient in half.)
Start out by cutting the red onion into thin julienne strips before dicing them. Then dice the jalapeños, celery and red peppers down to the same size. The last vegetable you’ll need to dice is the tomatoes; we also prefer ours without seeds for presentation and consistency. Once you’ve got all the vegetables diced down to the same size, place them all in a large mixing bowl.
Before you add the lump crabmeat to the bowl, make sure you pick through it to check for shells; fresh crabmeat will sometimes have a piece of shell or two in it. But don’t break up any of the lumps. Once the crabmeat is ready, toss it in the bowl with the vegetables.
Grab a separate mixing bowl for the lime juice, vinegar, Baumhower’s Hot Sauce, cilantro, salt and pepper, then whisk them all up while slowly but surely adding the salad oil. Next is the strained ice water, which we think is the perfect temperature after sitting on ice for two minutes. Once this mixture is ready, pour it over the crabmeat and vegetables and mix well but gently. (Again, be careful not to break up the crabmeat.)
The West Indies Salad is just fine as soon as it’s finished, but we highly recommend covering, labeling, and dating the mixture and letting it marinate for at least 24 hours before you serve it up. The next day will be like unwrapping Christmas presents when you open the fridge.
And when it’s time to eat, you’ll want a bit of crunch to go with this tangy, flavorful dish. We recommend cutting up a loaf of French bread, brushing each round with garlic butter and toasting them until they’re crisp, but any humble cracker will do just fine.