Crab Season in Chesapeake

We were recently on the East Coast, an adventure whose photos some of you may have seen on my Instagram @skinnygirlsandmayo.

The journey commenced in Washington D.C., although we flew into Baltimore.

“Maybe we should spend a day in Baltimore,” said pal Jon, who was born in Baltimore and happened to be traveling with us. I was reminded of a scene from the movie, “Shape of Water”:

Elaine Strickland: “I’m really beginning to like the house. And it’s only 30 minutes from D.C.!”

Richard Strickland: “It’s still Baltimore, Elaine. No one likes Baltimore.”

The first crab of the trip

We opted to skip Baltimore, heading instead directly for the Amtrak to D.C., which took about 30 minutes.

While I was more or less indifferent at best to the prospect of visiting Baltimore (especially at the expense of a day in D.C.), I was highly enthusiastic about one of Baltimore’s most famous products — crab. And specifically, soft-shell crab, one of my favorite foods on earth, which happened to be in season.

Upon checking into our Airbnb in Capitol Hill, I set out for the local Giant food store to get some provisions, and made two important discoveries. The first was Cape Cod limited edition “New England Bisque” potato chips, perhaps the greatest chip ever (which I then spent the remainder of the journey trying to find — successfully in Brooklyn, less so in the Adirondacks and Boston). The second was Chesapeake soft-shell crabs, four for $10! (I’m used to spending $6.99 a crab at home.) I purchase eight and headed triumphantly back to Capitol Hill.

Chip flavors you can’t get in Los Angeles

When shopping for three days at an Airbnb, you try to not purchase too much — especially things you might use only once, like flour or oil. Fortunately there was oil already in the house, but what to crust the crabs with? Necessity, as they say, turned out to be the mother of invention. I spied a very large bag of oyster crackers. I put the delighted children to work with mallets reducing the crackers to dust. I would then dredge the crab in the crumbs, fry them up (setting off the smoke detectors throughout the house), and place them with mayo and lettuce in some super soft Hawaiian bread-esque rolls I’d purchased for the occasion.

For all my highfalutin preparations of soft shells — tempura, Vietnamese sweet, Italian sophisticated, etc. — these crabs may have been the very best of all.

Crabs in the Adirondacks with salad of pears, blue cheese and Chuck’s Costo nut mix brittle

Before departing D.C., we stopped at the Giant and picked up five packs of frozen Chesapeake crabs — 20 in all! — to continue the crab roadshow at Jon’s family’s lake house in the Adirondacks, where wouldn’t you know it, those little suckers once again stole the show.

Get yerself to your local Giant and get cooking — the season is passing! Enjoy.

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Chesapeake oyster cracker-crusted soft-shell crab sandwich
serves 4

4 soft rolls (cheap hot dog rolls work well)
4 tbsp. soft butter
4 soft-shell crabs
2 cups oyster crackers
1 cup flour
1/2 beer
1 cup canola or peanut oil
salt & pepper to taste
4 tbsp. mayo

If using hot dog buns (or similar), carefully slice of the top 1/4 inch of the bun lengthwise to expose the bread. Spread top of each with a tablespoon of butter.

Heat a skillet over high heat, and place the rolls butter down on the skillet. Toast for about a minute, until golden brown. Remove and set aside.

Using a rolling pin or meat mallet, smash the crackers to crumbs.

Preheat oven to 250. Heat oil in a skillet large enough for all four crabs over medium-high heat. Dredge each crab in flour, dip in beer, then roll in crumbs to thoroughly cover. Fry crabs about 2 minutes on each side, until golden and crisp. Season liberally with salt and freshly ground pepper, and place on a rack in the oven to drain for 5 minutes.

Compose sandwiches: spread a tablespoon of mayo on each roll, top with a crab, and then a couple of leaves of lettuce.

Serve with a cold IPA.


Popcorn for Breakfast and Other Minor Revelations

Leftover popcorn, I’ve discovered, makes a good breakfast. My wife often makes popcorn for the kids in the evening, and there it is in the morning, half a pot — the butter soaked in and coagulated. Like many things, it is better the next day.

I especially like the crunchy, half-popped ones that congregate at the bottom of the pan. My wife worries: “You’re going to break a tooth on one of those one day.” But I like to live dangerously, I guess.

I made another delightful breakfast discovery this morning. It’s soft-shell crab season — one of my most favorite of all foods. Last night, I made seven soft-shell crab sandwiches for our dinner party. I had miscounted, and there were only six of us. So my second course of breakfast was a reheated soft-shell crab sandwich. What a start to the day!


La Ruta

I was recently in Mexico — again. (My brother when he later saw me asked, “Do you have your Mexican citizenship yet?”)

This time, it was with the family — and two of my favorite other families. My birthday this year happened to coincide with the kids’ spring break. So what better opportunity to rent a beautiful beach house half an hour south of the border to relax, cook, eat, sip tequila and celebrate?

The girls in the Valle de Guadalupe

One of the main attractions of the trip was going to be a visit to the much heralded Valle de Guadalupe — Baja Mexico’s buzzy wine region, extolled in publications from the New York Times to Wine Spectator. I’d been reading about the valley for years, had tried many of the wines, and was looking forward to a visit. More

A Remembrance of Things Past

In “Swann’s Way,” the first of the seven books that made up Marcel Proust’s famous À la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past), it happened this way:

The narrator, upon a taste of a madeleine dipped in tea, is suddenly flooded with a long-forgotten memory from his childhood.

Wandering North Hollywood

Here’s how it happened to me:

I had to get the car serviced, so had a couple hours to kill in North Hollywood. On the particular stretch of Lankershim Boulevard where the dealership is located, there ain’t much to see. So I set out to wandering. I had gone in and out of the 99 Cent Store, walked under the U.S. 101 overpass, glanced at the menu of an old school French restaurant housed in a small faux chateaux, and was wishing the couple of legit dive bars in the neighborhood opened a little earlier, when I spotted it: H. Salt Fish & Chips. More

A Roundabout Route to Baccalà Mantecato

My local Vallarta Mexican grocery store never ceases to surprise and amaze me.

First of all, it’s just darned cool to have a market that actually feels — smells, sounds, visuals — like you are in Mexico. And in that regard, I have yet to need a Mexican cooking ingredient that I can’t find there.

Secondly, I find countless ingredients I need for other cuisines — the fine tripe they have, for example, that I need (yes, need) for trippa alla Romana, and a dazzling variety of fresh herbs.

Newfoundland salt cod illustration from the 1700s

A recent happy discovery was baccalà, also known as bacalao, also known as salt cod — not something I ever associated with Mexican cooking. In the past, I’ve had to travel to a Spanish purveyor in Harbor City (a heck of a drive to non-Angelenos) or wait until I’m in San Francisco to visit North Beach’s famous deli, Molinari, to get some. Not only does Vallarta have beautiful European baccala, but it’s considerably less expensive than at either of those other places. More

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