Just Braise disappeared for a bit, but I assure you we kept eating. My energy has been focused on a food literacy project in NYC public schools and re-writing dairy pages for a non-profit. Once published, I’ll share my extensive knowledge of the dairy world with everyone. Until then, I have self-dubbed myself the NYC Milkmaid.
I assure you readers have not missed much. In the past few weeks dishes were sometimes brisk, consisting of leftovers, frozen soups and toasted bagels (we all have our days). While delicious, let us just say it was nothing to write home about. Can you blame us? As T.S. Eliot said, April is the cruellest month. What is a foodie to do when those root vegetables no longer look as crisp and inviting as they once did? What happens when dreams of spring greens appear so close yet feel so far?
We turn to the sea.
As I may have overly noted again and again, I live deliciously close to a handful of fish markets. I implore any of you who live remotely near to these dying markets (butchers, fish mongers and assorted now “specialty” markets) to shop these stores. The quality is often far superior than any supermarket and the workers (often the owners or extended family) know what they are selling and take their products seriously. When were these fish caught? Answered. How was this beef raised? Answered. Where was this pasta produced? Answered. It brings us back to the small stores so quickly falling through the cracks that are truly needed to connect us to a sense of community.
When D and I walked by one of these markets and saw the large handwritten sign, “Soft Shell Crabs are IN,” we knew we needed them. I stopped by a few hours later to pick some up and joked with the husband-wife team who own the place about prepping these babies:
Me: “What do you think is the best way to do these up?”
Husband: “Fry them! These babies are fresh! You know how I know? I made them last night, deeeelicious.”
Wife: “You didn’t make anything! You never make anything. You kidding me?”
Husband: “Well I ate them!”
Wife: “Yeah, you sure ate them, it’s about all you know how to do!”
Husband: “I know how to clean ‘em. I clean ‘em real good. I’ll clean them for you honey, you’ll see.”
Okay, so it was less of me joking and more listening in on an awkward domestic dispute about household chores.
But I had my soft shell crabs (with a free lemon I was told I would “definitely need”), I had my recipe, care of my bickering suppliers, and I had some homemade mayonnaise eagerly awaiting the chance to be turned into tartar sauce. (The mayonnaise is another story of love and loathing.)
In fact, the crabs were so fresh-tasting of the ocean, that after D and I finished off one each for dinner and then leftovers for lunch the following day, I bought four more to make crab tacos the next day! When they are back again I promise to pick more up and saute them in butter and lemon. (Soft shell crabs are blue crabs that have grown, shedding their shells. The waters have to be warm enough for them to grow. Soft shell crabs are now available from Florida to North Carolina. By the end of June we will have more local North East crabs. It’s a long and delicious season!)
My favorite application of the soft shell crab was in the above sandwich. I love the way the crab looks like it is ready to walk out and pinch you. As our spring greens have yet to grace our tables, we bulked up these sandwiches with some creamy avocado slices, a great balance to the crispness of the bread and zesty sauce.
You can ask your fish provider to clean the crabs for you. To clean yourself, simply cut off the eyes at front, remove the lungs from the sides, and the little bit of slime out the rear. Go here to see how The Minimalist does it.
Fried Soft Shell Crab Sandwich
Active time= about 15 minutes. Serving Size= 4 people
For the Crabs:
4 soft shell crabs
2-3 dashes Tabasco sauce
2 cups whole wheat flour (or mixture flour and cornmeal)
1 teaspoon Old Bay
vegetable oil to fill 1 inch up the side of the pan
1) Begin warming the oil on medium-high heat.
2) Place the egg and Tabasco in a bowl wide enough to fit a crab, scramble until combined. In another bowl, mix the flour and Old Bay until combined.
3) Once the oil is hot enough (test by placing the end of a chopstick in, if it bubbles, it is ready) dredge each crab in the egg, then transfer to the flour and toss until well coated. Transfer the crabs one at a time to the hot pan. Do not crowd the pan. Fry 2-3 minutes each side until lightly browned, set aside on a paper towel to dry and sprinkle with another dash of Old Bay.
For the Tartar Sauce:
1 cup mayonnaise
juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons horseradish sauce
2-3 dashes Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoons dill relish (or chopped pickles)
1) Mix all ingredients to combine.
To Assemble the Sandwich:
Toast your preferred bread until golden (I used sourdough). Smear each slice with a hefty dosage of tartar sauce, splay sliced avocado along the sauce and top with a crab and the second slice of bread. For easy handling, cut the sandwich in half.