Crab Poppers with Cascabel-Lime Aioli

For the crab poppers:

Pick through the crabmeat for any shell pieces, but leave the large jumbo chunks intact.  Combine the buttermilk, salt and egg and whisk together until the mixture is smooth.  Drop the pieces of crab into the wet mixture to coat, then directly into the panko crumbs.  Mix until coated well on all sides with the crumbs.  Fry the crab pieces in 365 degree vegetable oil until golden brown, then drain on paper towels.  Serve each crab popper on an individual spoon, or with toothpicks as a passed appetizer. Drizzle with cascabel-lime aioli and garnish with chopped chives.

For the aioli:

Simmer the cascabels in just enough water to cover for 22-24 minutes with a tight fitting lid.  Once they are soft, remove them from their cooking liquid then put the chiles and 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) of the cooking water into a food processor.   Add in all ingredients except for the oil and blend for 1 minute.  After one minute, begin drizzling in the oil slowly while the processor is on until a slightly thick mayonnaise consistency is reached.  Cool and serve.  The consistency can be adjusted as necessary.  If it’s too thick, add a little more of the cooking liquid.  If it seems too thin, add in more oil while the processor is running.

I love to serve this dish when the blue crabs are plentiful and fresh huge jumbo lump crabmeat is abundant.  It’s a perfect small bite to start off a party, packed with flavor and just a touch of heat, but not too hearty that everyone fills up before the main course.  They can be served on individual spoons, or skewered with large toothpicks.

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