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.

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

Sensuous Sumiyaki

One of the things I like about Tokyo — and Japan, in general — is you will find different restaurants catering to specific styles of food preparation. Here in America, we have sushi bars and teppanyaki table grills (given a P.T. Barnumesque American twist where chefs flip shrimp into the air, catch eggs in their hats and make rice volcanoes). In Japan, you have ramen joints, tempura bars, shabu shabu houses, unagi (eel) restaurants, skewered chicken innards cafes and countless other establishments catering to a single style of cooking or eating. There are even, unfortunately, restaurants specializing in whale.

Sumiyaki

With our large Japanese population in Los Angeles, more and more of these diverse eateries are appearing. More

Harvey’s Guss Meat Co.

Is it possible for four people to eat six pounds of porterhouse steak? When my friend, Greg, brought over said meat (handsomely profiled in a previous post, “The Emperor of Steaks”), we figured there was going to be a LOT of leftovers. There was not. Usually my wife and I eat half a pound between us. But this was some seriously good dry-aged meat. We had a first serving. Then a second… None of us could stop. This was dry-aged nirvana from the hallowed coolers of Harvey’s Guss Meat Co. in Mid City L.A.

Meat mural

Our bookkeeper, Joe Gussman, had been telling us for years to come visit his dad’s butcher shop sometime when he was working. I made a mental note but never got around to following up. But one day friend Greg asked me whether I knew of Harvey’s Guss, the fabled L.A. butcher. I connected the dots but had my wife give Joe a ring just to confirm.

Fast forward a couple months after the porterhouse, and I decided to visit Harvey’s Guss myself. I ordered two 2-inch thick rib steaks on the bone — my favorite cut. Just by chance, Harvey was out of town so Joe was in charge when I went to pick up my steaks. The place is located in a strange confluence of streets and cultures — where the Fairfax Ethiopian neighborhood abuts the old Jewish Mid City abuts mini-Tijuanas all around. If you were driving along looking for it you’d probably miss it. Was it in that apartment building I just passed, or was that a warehouse? And you can’t turn on the street where it sits, like water for thirsty Tantalus, just out of reach. So you must drive around and around until you figure your way through the labyrinth. There’s no open sign, no helpful customer service associate to assist you, you enter through a metal security door into a space where white-frocked workers are busy. They wave you in, point you to the office. That’s where Joe (or probably Harvey when he’s around) sits, sorting orders, answering the phone. This is meat at its most glorious, and meat sales at its most elementary. If you want a nice gift box, go to an Omaha Steaks boutique. If you want a bag to put your meat in, bring one.

I got a tour of the dry aging cooler, which maybe all customers get if they ask. I prefer to think it was a privilege of knowing Harvey’s son. Joe graciously consented to my filming his explanation of what I was seeing to share with you. Here it is:

Funny to think when I was younger I didn’t like steak.

In case you don’t feel like clicking over to the links page to find your own way to Harvey’s Guss, here’s the info you need: (And don’t forget, call a day ahead. The Gussmen are busy and have meat to sell…)

Harvey’s Guss Meat Co.
949 S. Ogden Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 937- 4622

http://www.harveysgussmeat.com/home.html

The Emperor of Steaks

This blog spends a lot of time in Italy, particularly the north. (In our mind, at least, if not in reality…) And now, I humbly present the king of all carnivorous northern Italian preparations — Bistecca alla Fiorentino.

6 lbs. of dry aged porterhouse, courtesy Harvey's Guss Meat Co.

If you have a crappy steak you bought from Costco, by all means — smother it in A-1, teriyaki sauce or sauteed mushrooms. If you have a good steak or a great steak, there is no option but Fiorentino. This will be the simplest recipe I have given you yet. And perhaps the most important. Unless you are a vegetarian. This will not work with a tofu cutlet.

Bistecca alla Fiorentino

rib-eye or porterhouse steak on the bone (about 1/2 lb or more per person), cut at least 1 inch thick
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup arugula per person
lemons
sea salt & pepper

Take the steaks out of the fridge an hour before you will cook them. Season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil.

Get the grill as hot as it will get. 600 degrees or above is good. Sear the steaks on each side, about 3 minutes per inch for medium rare. (Use a sharp steak knife to poke into the steak and make sure it is cooked to your liking.)

Here’s a neat trick my friend, Greg, taught me: On a cutting board, drizzle a little more olive oil, squeeze some lemon juice and sprinkle some salt and pepper. Remove the steaks from the grill and place on the cutting board to rest for 5 minutes. (The olive oil and lemon juice you put on the cutting board will soak into the meat when you cut it, and will bind to the meat juices so the steak will remain juicy.)

When they are done resting, slice the meat first off the bone, and then cut across the grain into 1/3 inch thick slices. Spread half a cup of arugula on each plate, arrange 4 or 5 slices of steak on top of the arugula. Squeeze lemon juice over the meat and arugula, drizzle some olive oil over the top as well. Then sprinkle with salt and pepper.

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