In 1924 in a small, nondescript restaurant sitting near the corner of City Hall and Monticello Avenue in downtown Norfolk, a cook tossed a handful of crabmeat into an aluminum pan of sizzling butter, sautéed it quickly, and added dashes of salt, cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and cooking sherry for good measure. It was the birth of Crab Norfolk.
The cook was probably W. O. Snowden, and the restaurant was Snowden and Mason’s. When Snowden sold his interests in the downtown building, he stayed on with the new owner, Doc Twiford, to share his knowledge. At Doc’s Seafood, folks sat at six cramped tables with bentwood chairs or on rickety red-leather barstools at the high countertop to watch Twiford create the savory treat. The restaurant was a local institution for 38 years.
Twiford was coy about his specialty, but later in his career he shared his secret with local historian and Virginian-Pilot newspaper columnist/humorist George Tucker: “Melt a piece of butter the size of a hen’s egg in a skillet. When it is hotter than the hinges of hell, dump in half a pound of the best backfin crabmeat. Then add salt and cayenne pepper and a dash each of Worcestershire sauce and cooking sherry for taste. Mix it carefully to avoid breaking up the crab lumps. And when it is sizzling, serve it up.”
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 cup backfin crabmeat
1/8 teaspoon paprika
In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, Worcestershire and hot sauce. Place two tablespoons of butter in a small sauté pan. Heat over medium-high heat. Add crabmeat, top with remaining butter and add vinegar mixture. Cook, tossing continually, until heated through and butter and vinegar mixture reduces slightly. Transfer to a plate and top with paprika.
Yield 1-2 servings
Recipe and text from my book, Dishing Up Virginia [LINK]