Steamed or boiled crab legs need side dishes that enhance, not overshadow, the sweetness of the meat. In addition to dipping sauces for the crab legs, consider pairing with salads, pastas, breads and vegetable dishes to create a filling but not stuffing meal. Sides can be hot or cold, regardless of whether the crab legs are served warm, at room temperature or chilled.
Clarified butter and lemon are the standard go-to accompaniments for crab legs, but they work best for warm or room-temperature legs, as the butter congeals when exposed to cold crab meat. For cold crab meat, use creamy dips, such as French-onion-flavored sour cream, or a tangy buttermilk and fresh dill dressing, to mimic the natural richness of clarified butter. Even a low-fat mayonnaise or sour cream — sweetened mayonnaise — can be mixed with Dijon mustard for a fast dressing. For something more exotic, nuoc nam, Vietnamese fish sauce, mixed with rice vinegar, sugar, orange juice, minced chili and finely chopped garlic, makes a dressing that is light but still out of the ordinary.
Hot side dishes present rich warmth to a crab supper, even if your crab legs are served chilled. Steamed vegetables, such as blanched green beans, steamed broccoli or carrots cooked to crisp-tender, are a classic choice. As a benefit, naked vegetables — not seasoned at all — pair well with almost all sauces and dips for crab legs, with the possible exception of cocktail sauce, whose sweetness may clash with some greens. Other hot sides that provide more bulk to a meal include warm buns; grilled corn on the cob; and potato-based dishes, such as french fries, or mashed or baked potatoes. Sweet potato fries, dressed with ground cinnamon, provide a rich sweetness that pairs well with crab legs.
Cold side dishes have the benefit of being easy to prepare in advance, storing in the fridge until your crab supper is ready to be served. In addition to crudités and green salads, consider pasta or potato salads as a filling way to bulk up a meal. Cold sesame Asian noodles with sliced vegetables add richness and dimension. To round it out, serve with a crunch savoy cabbage coleslaw to give your crab meal a 100 percent international bent. Other cold side options include a variety of pickles and preserves. Choose regional specialties like pickled white radish, chow-chow relish from the South or pickled green peppers. The acidity of the pickles will cut the richness of any sauces or dips.
Sides for Crab Leg Dishes
Dishes made with crab legs, such as stir-fried crab or jumbo crab cakes, require different sides, as the foods are often already heavily spiced or more filling than just steamed crab legs. If your crab leg dish is already starch-heavy, such as with crab cakes, stick with light vegetable side dishes, like sauteed peppers and zucchini, to avoid making too heavy a meal. For stir-fried crab, include steamed rice as a foil for the rich sauce of the crab, and stick with quickly stir-fried Asian veggies, like bok choy.