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.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

In a word: crappy, that’s how.

But every year come March, hope springs eternal, and I plant the spring garden.

The first of my spring greens

The first of my spring greens

Preparations for this year’s garden included fortifying it against one of last year’s greatest foes — the chickens. The very first year I put terraces in on our back hillside, it was a lost cause — the hens took over, scratching, rolling in the soft soil, sunning themselves, and nibbling young greens until nothing was left but stem. So I fenced the enclosure in. But while not acrobatic flyers, the most athletic of the chickens soon figured out they could fly up and over. So this year I extended the height another few feet with additional chicken wire. Even still, every so often I inexplicably find a chicken inside. More