Wednesday, May 13, 2009

It's ALIVE!! A tale of soft shell crabs

I tell you, times as of late have been scary in my kitchen.

First, it was the invasion. Coming out of that on the winning side with bread pudding leftovers for days, the coast seemed clear. At the Greenmarket beautiful piles of greens, towers of asparagus and the first bright pink stalks of rhubarb started to fill in around the ramp mounds. A curvy bunch of baby bok choy stole my heart and with the sun shining, my flip flops flopping the pavement, I headed home, unknowing all the way, to see what Russ had picked up from the fish market.

Part of me feels as though I should stop letting him go. If you recall the last thing he pulled from that brown paper fish bag... Well this time it was worse. Or better. Depending on if you asked me before or after I ate it.

We'd been planning on taking a stab at cooking soft shell crabs for a few weeks and gathering information on how to do it right along the way. Most reliable sources said, "Buy the ones that are still moving. If they don't move, don't bother." This advice was largely why I was responsible for picking up the produce. I'm an adventurous eater but much more so when the breading and batter and heat has been applied. I'm not sure how much movement I expected but when Russ pulled out the first crab, legs squirming violently in the air around his hand what I didn't expect to do was to scream like a girl.

Which I did. In response to my squimish squeeling he replied, "All you have to do is cut off their faces and rip out their gills." Unassumingly charming as he tickled their bellies, I silently wondered if there was an evil side to this man before me. Watching the poor little crabs tapping their frenzied little legs on the cutting board as the knife came down on their soft little shells... So violent.

But. So. Delicious. Once I successfully repressed the image of that one, still-twitching claw, covered in egg wash and cornmeal, not yet fried and not yet dead...I could let myself enjoy the explosively rich, velvety, salty and amazing flavor of the crabs. They were aboslutely as insanely delicious as the scene in my kitchen was perhaps insane during their preparation.

The steamed bok choy was light and good for the heart, but as the crabs sizzled in the pan all I really wanted was a plate piled high exclusively with soft shells. After I took this picture I added another one to my plate on the spot.

If you aren't so lucky to have a fresh fish market around the corner (or aren't so brave or don't have a crazy bearded butcher for a kitchen companion), you can make a delicious soft shell crab meal from fresh, non-moving crabs that have simply died in refrigeration; it happens quickly once the crabs are put on ice (you'll still have to clean them!). Just make sure you know where they came from and when they arrived in your store.

I know I've painted a gruesome picture here. But I promise I did it because I believe you can't make it through the season without having at least...6 crabs. They are highlight-of-your-week, worth-cutting-off-a-crabs-face scrumptious. And sometimes you need to see proof that you can make it through the other side to get there.

Well I'm on the other side. And I'm going back for more.

Cornmeal Battered Fried Soft Shell Crabs

5 Soft shell crabs
2 eggs
Cornmeal to coat
Sea salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
Fresh thyme, to taste

1. Using kitchen shears, snip off the eyes and mouth of the crab. (This will be about 1/8 of an inch behind the eyes, cutting straight across.)
2. Snip around the edge of the body, folding back the top of the shell. A fingerlike structure should be visible inside the body.
3. Either with scissors or with your fingers, remove this structure from both sides.
4. On the belly, pull back the flap, referred to as the apron, and snip it off as well.

For help with cleaning your crabs, check out this video.

5. The yellow gel-like substance you'll see in the crab can be clean out, or left to be eaten. Its edible, but it may make you feel better to clean it out.
6. Rinse crabs thoroughly under water. Pat dry.
7. Dip in egg wash.
8. Mix salt, pepper and thyme into cornmeal. Coat crabs with mixture.
9. Coat the bottom of a frying pan in a thin layer of olive oil. Heat.
10. Over medium heat, place crabs in pan. Cook on both sides until golden brown.

5 crabs

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You crack me up. "worth cutting off a crab's face" scrumptious...You're brilliant. I think that's a new saying that you've just coined. (from Bryn)