I’m in Maryland (okay, technically Washington, D.C. at the moment), the home of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab. It’s summer, and in Maryland that means it’s crab season, wahoo!! Love blue crabs — soft shell, hard shell, crab cakes, crab soup…love it all.
While I grew up in Maryland, have spent the past ten years in Chicago (land of pork belly; which is equally good but in a much different way). Even after all these years, my affinity for blue crabs remains stronger than ever. They’re just as good as what I remember. Eating [hard shell] crabs is an afternoon affair in this part of the country. You start with a bushel of crabs, lots of Old Bay, crack them open one at a time — sustaining a few puncture wounds while scavenging for every last morsel of crab meat — and washing it all down with a glass or two of Dogfish Head beer. Oh, how I’ve missed you.
In a world where you can get anything you want, anytime you want it, the blue crab doesn’t abide by this rule. You must patiently await its arrival — beginning in May and throughout the summer, the blue crab abandons its shell and starts to form a new one. The shell remains soft for only a few hours after the crab has molted (hence the name soft shell crab). If you can get your hands on some, they are sweet, briny, and delicious.
Prepared a summer salad to accompany the soft shell crabs. An assortment of vegetables, including sweet summer corn, squash, favas, peppery arugula, onion, basil, and sun gold tomatoes from my local farmers’ market. Used a a simple dressing — French tarragon, shallot, lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper — to tie it all together. I particularly like the boldness of the tarragon, which imparts an anise-like flavor and pairs nicely with the crab.
Toasted a few slices of baguette in olive oil and then rubbed them with a clove of garlic and sprinkled with some course sea salt.
Soft Shell Crab with Summer Vegetable Salad
Clean the crabs as described here (or ask your fishmonger to do so).
Soft shell crabs
Extra virgin olive oil for pan frying
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
Dredge the crabs in flour. Shake off excess flour. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat a large saute pan over high heat for 1 minute. Add the oil. When hot (but not smoking) turn the heat down to medium, lay the crabs in the pan, soft-shell side down. Cook over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes. When the first side is crisp, turn the crabs over and brown the other side. Remove the crabs from the pan, and drain on a towel-lined plate.
Summer Vegetable Salad
Use this recipe as a guide, varying the types and quantities of vegetables or herbs, depending on what’s in season or what strikes your fancy.
2 ears [non-GMO] corn
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1 small-medium yellow squash, diced
1 small-medium zucchini, diced
1/2 cup shelled and peeled fava [1 pound fava bean pods] or Lima beans
18 sun gold tomatoes or other variety of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 jalapeno, minced
large handful of baby arugula (about 1 1/2 ounces)
1/3 cup thinly sliced basil leaves
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Cut the kernels from the corn cobs (over a shallow bowl, to prevent making a big mess). Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the corn to the dry pan and stir for 8 to 10 minutes until the corn kernels have browned a bit. Set aside to cool.
Heat the olive in in a medium skillet. When hot, add the onions and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the diced squash and zucchini, season with salt and pepper, and saute until just tender and a bit browned. Set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, mix the reserved corn, onions and squash. Stir in the fava beans, tomatoes, jalapeno, arugula, and basil leaves. Gently mix in the shallot-lime-tarragon dressing. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Divide the salad among plates and top with a soft-shelled crab.
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped French tarragon
2 tablespoons lime juice
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Mix the shallot, tarragon, and lime juice in a small bowl. Whisk in the olive oil. Season with salt to taste.