Saturday, July 14, 2012

Soft-Shelled Maryland Blue Crab

Wow, it's been a while since I've had the chance to add new dishes to the blog so lots to catch up on.

First up is a very simple preparation of soft-shelled crab that I picked up from Eric Ripert's show Avec Eric

4 live crabs bought in from Maryland by Tokyo Fish in Berkeley

Prep for the crabs include trimming the face off

As well as cleaning out the lungs and innards

Dusting the crabs with flour

Sauteing the crabs in butter and oil


Served - yum!

For those here on the West Coast who may not be familiar with soft-shelled crabs, the dishes typically makes use of blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) from the Chesapeake Bay usually during spring and summer. A crab is harvested during the short time of the year when it has just molted its exoskeleton and the new shell is still soft, hence the term. I find that people are a little unsure about eating the entire crab when they first have them but once they've tasted it, they're usually hooked.

I used to have them back when I lived in Boston but it took me a while before I looked for them out here in the Bay Area. Tokyo Fish in Berkeley usually has them shipped in when they're in season and we always get some at least a couple of times each year. I've seen several variations of preparation of crab but this one is so simple and delicious that I pretty much use it routinely now. If you're interested in trying it for yourself I'd recommend following the directions to the letter the first time to get the idea how easy and good it is. It's key that you only use live crabs for this dish as the freshness is critical to guarantee the flavor.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsweetened butter
8 live soft-shelled Maryland blue crabs
Kosher salt
Fresh-cracked black pepper
All-purpose flour or Wondra
2 lemons
Serves 4

The preparation of the crabs may seem a little tricky the first time but once you've done it you'll have no problem at all the next time. (I promise a video of this soon!)
As the crabs are live you need to immediately kill the crab by trimming off its face. Hold the crab sideways over a sink (so that it is facing the right, if you're right-handed - to the left if not) and, using kitchen shears or scissors, snip off the face - that is, the front just about a quarter inch in towards the body. Then, gently without tearing it completely off the crab, pull the top of the shell back using your fingers to root out the 'butter' (the green stuff) and the lungs (the finger-like white parts) from the insides as these are inedible. Rinse the crab under water then gently replace the top of the shell and put aside while you prepare the others. When you are done cleaning the crabs, pat them quite dry with a paper towel as this will prevent the flour with which you dust them from becoming paste.
Add enough flour to dust all of the crabs to a bowl with some salt and pepper to season. Dip each of the crabs in the flour knocking off the excess.
Heat a medium-sized frying pan (I use a 12-inch iron skillet) over medium heat and add the butter and oil to it once it is hot. Once the butter has melted, put 2 of the crabs into the pan bottoms down and allow them to cook undisturbed for exactly 45 seconds. Flip them over and let them cook again undisturbed for another 45 seconds. Remove the crabs to a plate and cook the others the same way. Squeeze the juice from the lemons as serving, and that, my seafood-loving friends, is it!

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