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.

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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

Crispy Shrimp Risotto Fake Out

I’m a big believer in the ol’ saying, “If life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.” I often spring it on my children when something hasn’t gone the way they were hoping, and they roll their eyes at me.

One lemon that life keeps giving me over and over again is burnt rice. About one out of every three times I make sushi rice, I space out and forget to turn it off and it burns.

Crispy shrimp risotto fake out

Crispy shrimp risotto fake out

If it isn’t too burned, I’m able to salvage most of the rice and it has a nice woodsy nutty smoked taste that works well with sushi. Also if it’s not too burned, the “burnt” part comes off with a wrist twist of the spatula in crusty golden brown strips. If you put it in a 200 degree oven for 40 or so minutes, it dries out and becomes the hard stuff the Chinese fry to drop into sizzling rice. More

The Green Party

I’m always on the lookout for interesting ethnic markets. And so, while driving several days a week to a deep western corner of the San Fernando Valley to visit my father recovering from cranial surgery, was delighted to discover the Island Pacific Supermarket.

Green papaya salad

Green papaya salad

My repertoire of markets boasts a healthy array of ethnicities — Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian, German, Italian, Persian, Mexican… But here was something new — a Filipino market! More

The Treasures of the Lagoon — a Guest Post

When my neighbors, Chris and Glennis, told me they were renting a flat in Venice next to the Rialto bridge — and more importantly, the famous Rialto fish market — it was all I could do to contain my envy and jealousy joy for them. I’ve always wanted to have a kitchen in Venice so I could cook the wonderful and exotic things at the Rialto market. Glennis has one of my favorite blogs, Doves Today. So I made her promise to take lots of photos and do a guest post on my blog. Without further ado, here is her richly documented contribution. Enjoy!

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The Treasures of the Lagoon

Image 2

“In Venice even ordinary sole and ugly great skate are striped with delicate lilac lights, the sardines shine like newly-minted silver coins, pink Venetian scampi are fat and fresh, infinitely enticing in the early dawn.” – Elizabeth David

In Venice, our flat faced the Grand Canal at the Calle di Boteri, just down from the Rialto Mercado. Here, the great mercantile center of Venice has operated since the 16th century, with the Erberia, the produce market, and the Pescheria, the Fish Market next to one another beside the canal. More

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