Umami Girl gets her freak on when soft-shell crabs arrive at the market.
In our tiny new town there’s a tiny old fish market just up the road. Like most of the shops around here, it’s a real place run by real people—the kind of establishment where they know enough to give you a free lemon when you shell out for a big mess of fish and they sometimes pepper the friendly conversation with a little too much information about family legal affairs. They probably figure that everyone knows already, anyway—and they’re probably right.
A few days ago, the shop window rang alive with the Good Word, scrawled in handwriting on a sheet of looseleaf. “Live soft-shells are here.” Amen, sistah.
It’s early in the season yet, and soft-shells are coming to the Northeast from Florida rather than from the Chesapeake, where they’ll really hit their stride in a few weeks. They’re pricey right now, so when I asked for six, the fishmonger, no doubt trying to save me from personal bankruptcy and not at all to make my cheeks flush red with panic and passion, inquired as to how many people I planned to feed. I think I must have made a little choking sound in my throat, followed perhaps by a few words of unintelligible Spanglish. Then, simply, “I’d like six, please,” and a swift, I’d like to think not-ungraceful, exit.
Meanwhile, back in that bigger town where, but for the grace of wireless, I rarely go these days, people are getting their freak on for another spring delicacy. At Serious Eats this week, they’re talking about this article by Josh Ozersky at Time.com and pondering why foodies freak out about ramps in the springtime. I, for one, like ramps a sort of unnatural amount. Last year around this time I even made them kid-friendly (or, if you prefer, exploited the hell out of them) by turning them into a dip. And as you probably know by now, you’ll usually find me right on the front lines of the biggest mob freaking out about spring’s first vegetables.
But recently, as any certified overthinker would do, I’ve been searching for signs that our move to the burbs was enlightened, or at least not unenlightened, or at least equally lightened with staying closer to the city. Enlightenment is not an easy thing to quantify. But I have to say, if it’s ramps in the city versus crabs in the country, you can keep your city.
Also by way of budding proof of enlightenment, there’s Exhibit B.
“B” for backyard, and for turn off your damned brain, and for quit yer bitchin, I think.
Sorry, I’m getting a little crabby myself. Maybe financial ruin is not the only side effect of a crab-centric diet. And if soft-shell crabs are so prized as to be hunted up and down the eastern seaboard, an overthinker might start to wonder what price adorns the head of a crab with an endoskeleton. And then she might think some more and decide she’d better sign off now.
Sauteed Soft-Shell Crabs with Spicy Sauce
-serves 3 (or 1, 3 days running)-
6 soft-shell crabs
1/2 cup flour
Salt and pepper
2 Tablespoons total of butter, bacon fat and/or oil
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
Big-ass squirt Sriracha
1 Tablespoon finely minced onion
A bed of greens (or as I like to call it, a bed of excuses)
1. If possible, buy the soft shell crabs just before you want to cook them and have the fishmonger kill them for you on the spot. Or, if you’d rather buy them live and do it yourself, clean them like this. (Warning: one of the steps is “snip the face off.” Just so you know.)
2. Place the flour on a plate. Season the crabs lightly with salt and pepper and dredge them lightly in the flour. Heat the butter, bacon fat or oil in a wide skillet over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add three of the crabs in a single layer (or two if your pan isn’t big enough to accommodate three without crowding). Cook for three minutes on the first side, then flip and cook for three minutes on the other side. Repeat with the remaining crabs.
3. While the crabs are cooking, combine the mayo, soy sauce, sriracha and minced onion in a small bowl and mix well.
4. Place a bed of greens and some cucumbers and cherry tomatoes in each of three wide bowls. Lay two crabs over each, and drizzle with spicy sauce. Serve warm.