You’ve undoubtedly heard of, if not enjoyed, chicken and waffles. Well, this is my version, Maryland-style, waffles and soft-shell crab. Soft-shell crabs are a seasonal, Maryland delicacy. But, not just any old crab. If you’re in Maryland, chances are it’s a Chesapeake Bay blue crab that is bringing a smile to your face (and stomach). In my opinion, Chesapeake blues are the best variety of crab; then again, I’m biased — am an East Coast crab (and oyster) lover all the way.
I found these beautiful, fresh, soft-shell crabs at my local farmers’ market, still alive and hissing…
What’s your favorite local/regional food??
An interesting tidbit on soft-shell crabs…
The soft-shell crab is a crab in its molten state. Theory goes…blue crabs begin shedding their outgrown shell on the first full moon of May. In their molten state, they are quickly harvested from the water. If left in the water, the new crab shell will harden in just a few hours, transforming it into a hard-shell crab, which is equally delicious (have many fond memories of hours spent with friends eating hard-shells — digging around for meat, enduring a few puncture wounds in the process — with plenty of cold beer on hand).
Prepping and cooking soft-shell crabs…
You’ll find soft-shell crab on many menus (here in Maryland and across the country) this time of the year, but they are easy enough to prepare yourself (and you’ll save a few bucks in the process). In its soft shell state, the entire crab is edible (after removing the gills and apron, and snipping off the eyes and mouth). You can read more about cleaning them here. I like to keep the preparation simple. A light dredge in all-purpose flour, salt and pepper, and then a few minutes in a hot pan. That’s it.
While I love crab, it was a bit of an afterthought in terms of this dish. It all started with my new affinity for waffles, as written about here. Last time, made a sweet version with fresh strawberries, though had a savory version in the works. The base for the waffle is the same — polenta and whole-wheat flour — but with this batch I added smoked cheddar, cilantro, jalapeno, and chives. Nice and crispy on the outside, and tender on the inside. All and all, the perfect vehicle for pan-seared, soft-shell crab, along with a few shots of hot sauce on top.
The endorphin (hot) sauce…
Well, the endorphin sauce is a work in progress. Used a combination of Thai chiles, jalapenos, Fresnos, and a habanero (really like the fruitiness of the habanero) in this batch. Needless to say, it packs a punch; am somewhat of a chile fiend, so I don’t mind the heat. I let the sauce ferment for a week at room temperature before transferring to the fridge. It has mellowed out considerably over time (actually, it has been in the refrigerator for a few months; I recently found it hiding amidst various produce). As for the next batch, I may cut back on the Thai chiles and incorporate a few more milder chiles.
My original thought was to top the waffles with a seasonal ratatouille, but will have to put that on hold until tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers come in season.
Along with being a perfect treat, in both sweet and savory form, waffles freeze well. Thus, you can make a bunch, freeze them, and have a stash of waffles on hand for whenever you want.
Waffles — Maryland-Style
makes 8 large waffles
1 cup polenta such as this
1 1/2 sticks butter, cubed
2 cups milk
2 cups whole wheat or white wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 bunch of chives, chopped
1/4 cup packed cilantro
1 heaping cup shredded smoked cheddar
1 to 2 jalapenos, seeded, minced (more or less, depending on desired heat)
Cooking the Polenta: Add the polenta and 4 cups water to a pot and set over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the first starch takes hold, 5-8 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, until the grains are soft and hold their shape on a spoon, about 1 hour. Remove from the heat and transfer to a large mixing bowl.
Add the butter and milk to the polenta, and whisk to combine.
In a separate bowl combine the dry ingredients — flour, salt, baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the polenta. Stir in the chives, cilantro, and jalapenos, and mix gently to combine. Whisk the egg and add into the batter.
Preheat your waffle iron and lightly butter. Ladle the batter into the waffle iron and cook 3 1/2 to 4 minutes for crispy waffles.
Soft Shell Crab
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 lightly in flour. Shake off any excess flour. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat a large sauté pan over high heat for 1 minute. Add a tablespoon of oil. When hot (but not smoking) reduce the heat to medium, lay the crabs in the pan, soft-shell side down. Cook over medium heat for 3-5 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.