August 5, 2007
The first softshell crab I encountered was not a culinary gem. The chef de cuisine also happened to be the driver for the Delmar Volunteer Fire Department. Both his cooking and his driving were involved in many accidents.
Ashes from the cigarette that dangled from his lip fell into the same vat of bubbling oil that he dumped buckets of bird parts and on top of that, soft shell crabs. When the crabs were saturated with oil, they were removed, slapped between two slices of white bread and tossed on a paper plate. If I put enough ketchup on it, I could choke it back.
Since then, I’ve enjoyed the most delightful soft shell crabs from more refined chefs and they have come to mark a highlight in the Spring and Summer Seasons. More importantly David, soft shells are quite the aphrodisiac.
This particular soft shell recipe was inspired by the chefs at Union Square Cafe.
Softshell Crab with Cucumber Peach Salad and Crispy Old Bay Frites
2 large white potatoes
1 Tbs olive oil
2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
Preheat the oven to 425. Using your mandoline, julienne the potatoes. Toss them with the olive oil and the Old Bay. Place them in a single layer on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until crisp.
The Peach Salad
1 ripe yellow peach, diced
1 english cucumber, deseeded and diced
1 yellow summer straighneck squash, diced
2 spring onions or scallions, thinly sliced
A handful mint leaves, chopped finely
A smaller handful of basil leaves, chopped finely
Juice of half a lemon
1 Tbs olive oil
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 15 – 30 minutes.
The Soft Shells
I prefer to store the crabs live and clean them just before I’m ready to saute. I know you’re not squeamish, David, but others may be. If that’s the case you can always have your fishmonger clean them for you, but make sure you put them in a hot pan shortly afterwards.
2 shoft shell crabs
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 cayenne pepper, deseeded and cut in half
OR 1 teaspoon chile infused olive oil
Clean the crabs by snipping off their faces with a pair of scissors and removing the skirt.
If you’re using fresh cayenne, heat the oil with the cayenne. If you’re using the chile oil, heat the oil until almost smoking, then add the chile oil. Sautee the crabs for 2 minutes per side without stirring. They should be red and firm.
Cut the tops of small kraft brown paper gift bags with pinking shears. Fill with frites. Mound the peach salad on the plate and top with the soft shell like a tilted chapeau. Serve with an Albariño or a glass of dry rosé. If your dinner guest is down home, pop a crisp ale.