Year of the Sandwich — A Soft Spot for Soft Shells

Spring is a really good time for food. And several great seasonal items appear around this part of the year.

One of my very favorites is the morel mushroom, which they sometimes (rarely) get at Whole Foods. So driving down the street the other day, rather than shaking my head sadly at all the people mortgaging their futures to shop there when the Whole Foods came into view, I pulled in.

Soft shell crab sandwich

There were no morels.

I continued back to the seafood counter to see if there was anything interesting there. And my eyes nearly escaped their sockets when I realized it was also the time of year of one of my other most favoritest things: soft shell crabs. And on sale, no less!!

The delicious blue crab becomes one of nature’s most unfortunate creatures in spring, when it sheds its shell and must try to find shelter and hide out while its new shell hardens. But those fisherman are savvy. And so it is our good fortune when for a few months each year, the soft little suckers find their way across the country (blue crabs are an Atlantic thing) onto our fish counters.

Another angle

I purchased two, not wanting to be greedy.

I had plans to make Korean food for dinner, and thought I might slip onto the menu a dish inspired by another Southeast Asian cuisine — my sinfully tasty Vietnamese-style garlic “crack” crabs (so named by friends for their addictive quality). Instead, I made one crab into a variation of the classic Maryland soft shell sandwich, and saved the other for some other selfish use. (Which turned out to be another Maryland soft shell sandwich the next day.)

While I love soft shells in other guises — those “crack” crabs, for example; or Italian-style with garlic and lemon — the soft shell sandwich may be the very best crab dish of all: soft white bread dressed only with homemade tartar, fresh romaine lettuce and a beer-battered crab. Simple, fresh, delicious.

I mentioned to my pal Mike that soft shells were in season, and his eyes lit up. We had, he insisted, to plan a “classic” East Coast dinner of soft shell sandwiches, grilled rare steak and heirloom tomatoes with mozzarella. That was all the encouragement I needed.

I no longer cared about being greedy. I bought a dozen.

*    *    *

Soft-shell crab sandwich
serves 4

4 soft-shell crabs, cleaned
1 cup flour
1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
1/2 cup beer
1 cup vegetable oil
8 slices thick, soft white bread
1/4 cup tartar sauce
4 large romaine lettuce leaves
salt to taste

Toss the crabs in 1/2 cup flour to cover. Mix together the remaining flour and Old Bay. Stir in the beer.

In a wok or medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until a drop of batter sizzles. Dip crabs in batter and fry, two at a time, about 2-3 minutes per side (or until crisp and golden). Note: you may want to stand back a bit, as the crabs have a tendency to pop hot oil as they cook.

When cooked, remove from heat to paper towels to drain.

Place lettuce leaves on a slice of bread. Top with a crab, and 1 tbsp. of tartar sauce. Top with the other slice of bread, and enjoy with a hoppy IPA or glass of zinfandel.

Tacos, Foiled!

I was trying to make tacos, a simple enough goal.

And yet, I was being foiled.

Veracruz-style fish tacos

Veracruz-style fish tacos

Whilst in Seattle, my pal Bob reminded me that it was the “Year of the Taco” at Skinny Girls & Mayo. I hadn’t exactly forgotten, per se — but I clearly hadn’t been focusing any of my narrative attention lately to the recording of taco adventures in the kitchen. More

Multekrem, Revisited

It had been nearly four years since I wrote about cloudberries and the Norwegian dessert, multekrem, on this very blog. It was time to revisit the subject.

Multekrem

Multekrem

I would run into my towering Norwegian pal Pål (with the cool little bubble over the “a”) over the intervening years at school. Pål had brought polar cloudberries that his parents had smuggled in frozen from Norway to our house for dinner, and I was smitten. The cloudberries, folded into whipped cream, became multekrem — one of the most heavenly flavors ever. (Appealing, perhaps, to my northern DNA…) The salmon-colored cream would often enter my head for no reason at all, like a beautiful song from the past. More

Tacotopia, Episode #5 — In Praise of Leftovers

Leftover steak is always a welcome thing in our home. It’s uses are many, beyond simply having tasty leftover steak in the fridge: Vietnamese beef salad or spring rolls, pasta Bolognese, steak sandwiches… And, perhaps most deliciously of all, tacos.

The taco

The taco

Even under normal circumstances, I’m always on the hunt for new taco inspiration. This particular day, in addition to the leftover steak, I had some roasted pasilla chiles in the fridge. An exceptional combination, thought I — especially with the addition of some slices mushrooms and monterrey jack cheese. More

Fried Artichokes

I heart artichokes. But I don’t cook them all that often. They are usually ridiculously expensive. However, a couple times a year, around the two harvests (spring and autumn), they will be abundant and cheap. And at those times, we eat a LOT of them.

EHEI1428

Compound that with my discovery at the local grocery store of the “wilted and cosmetically challenged” produce area, where I often find three or four slightly-over-the-hill artichokes packaged together for $.99, and we’ve been on something of an artichoke bender — steamed artichokes, artichoke dip, artichoke pasta, artichoke salad, artichoke soup… and my new favorite, fried artichoke. More

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