Monday, April 09, 2007

Soft-Shell Crab

Soft-shell crab season is here. Halleluiah, amen, and pass the Remoulade sauce!

Two weeks ago the first shipment of soft-shell crabs arrived— alive and kicking— to the back door of our restaurants. Since then we have received daily shipments and can’t buy enough to keep up with the demand.

There is a simple reason for soft-shell crab’s popularity— they taste great.

Soft-shell crabs are the single most popular feature item offered at the Purple Parrot Café and Crescent City Grill. Every year around this time we start receiving shipments of soft-shells and they sell out within hours.

Hurricane Katrina gave us a short soft-shell season last year. This year started a little slower than normal, but we expect the harvest to kick in any day now.

In the four years prior to Hurricane Katrina, we were able to purchase a steady supple of soft-shells from March through the middle of November.

A soft-shell crab is the same species as other blue crabs that can be found in the Gulf of Mexico, except that a soft-shell has been harvested just as it begins to molt.

Molting is the process by which the crab loses its hard shell and begins to form a new one. The crabs are held in specially designed holding tanks at a constant temperature of 75-80 degrees, and once the crab loses his hard, much smaller, outer shell, there is a two-hour window in which the crab is removed from the water before a new, harder, shell is formed. All crabs molt, some just get caught during the molt, and lucky for us, the ones that are caught end up on our plates.

Soft-shell crab facilities are usually family operations in which each member of the family takes a turn checking the tanks for newly molted crabs. The tanks are checked hourly even during the middle of the night. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication on the part of several individuals to get a soft-shell from the tank to the plate. But the end result is worth the effort.

Soft shell crabs are available in four sizes: whalers (5 1 /2 inches or larger from tip to tip), jumbos (5 – 51/2 inches), large (41/2 – 5 inches) and medium (4 – 41/2 inches).

Soft-shell crabs are an exception to the typical seafood rule— size DOES matter. The bigger the better and the whaler is the most sought after, most delectable, and most flavorsome of the bunch.

“Buster” crabs (3 – 4 inches) are not available in the Gulf anymore due to game and fish regulations prohibiting any crab smaller than four inches from being harvested. Atlantic states still harvest busters but if you’re eating one in this area, it has probably been frozen.

Deep frying is the cooking method of choice, and at our restaurants we always prepare our soft-shells with an extra helping of jumbo lump crabmeat on top or stuffed inside the crab.

As we head in to the warmer days of spring and summer we should pause and give thanks for God’s rich bounty from the Gulf and for the dedicated crabbers who monitor tanks around the clock so that we can eat a dish that is truly one of the best that the South has to offer.

with Warm Shrimp-Boil Potato Salad and spiced pecans

Fried Soft Shell Crab

4 Softshell crabs, cleaned
2 cups Milk
2 Eggs
1 Tbl Tarragon, dried
4 Tbl Hot Sauce
2 Tbl Creole Seasoning
3 cups Seasoned Flour
Peanut oil, for frying

Heat 2 inches of peanut oil to 350 degrees in a heavy skillet or deep fryer.

Make the Creole Beurre Blanc and hold in a warm water bath.

Combine milk, eggs, tarragon, Hot Sauce, and Creole Seasoning. Mix well. Gently drop the crabs in the seasoned milk mixture and place all in the refrigerator and marinate for at least 6 hours.

Make the Crabmeat stuffing.

Remove crabs from the milk mixture one at a time and stuff equal parts of the Crabmeat Stuffing under the top shell of the crab.

Lightly dust the crabs in the seasoned flour. Be careful to keep all of the legs attached and separated keeping them from sticking together. Gently glide the crab (shell side down) into the hot oil, being careful not to splash. Cook approximately two minutes and turn over for another two minutes. Remove the crabs and drain on paper towels.

Spoon approximately one cup of the Warm Shrimp-Boil Potato Salad onto four plates. Place the cooked crab in the middle of the plate. Ladle two ounces of Creole Beurre Blanc over the crab and sprinkle Spiced Pecans over all.

Yield: Four servings

Crabmeat Stuffing

1 /3 cup Green bell pepper, small dice
1 /3cup Red bell pepper, small dice
2 Green onions, Sliced
2 Egg yolks
3 Tbl Mayonnaise
1 Tbl Creole mustard
1 Tbl Lemon juice
1 Tbl Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp Hot sauce
1 Tbl Creole seasoning
1 lb lump crabmeat
2 Tbl Japanese Breadcrumbs

Add first 10 ingredients and mix by hand
Gently fold in crabmeat. Add breadcrumbs

Seasoned Flour

3 cups all-purpose flour
4 Tbl Creole Seasoning

Mix flour and seasoning thoroughly.
Yield: 3 cups

Spiced Pecans

1 Tbl Unsalted butter
1 cup Pecans
1 tsp Black pepper, freshly ground
1 /8 tsp Cayenne pepper
1 /8 cup Sugar
1 tsp Kosher salt

Melt butter over a low heat in a large sauté pan.
Add nuts and stir continuously.
Add sugar and cook until caramelized.
Add salt and continue to stir.
Add Peppers and stir, then remove from heat.
Cool on a sheet pan before storing

Creole Beurre Blanc

1 /4 cup Shallot, minced
2 tsp Garlic, minced
1 /4 cup White wine
2 Tbl White vinegar
2 Tbl Heavy cream
2 tsp Creole mustard
1 /2 lb Unsalted butter
Kosher salt to taste

In a sauce pan, over medium high heat, reduce the shallot, garlic, white wine, and vinegar until all liquid has evaporated.
Add heavy cream and creole mustard, and reduce by half.
Reduce heat to medium, and slowly incorporate the butter one to two tablespoons at a time, stirring constantly. Strain through a chinios, and hold warm. Salt to taste.

Warm Shrimp Boil Potato Salad

3 cups Red potatoes, diced
1 /2 lb Fresh shrimp, medium
1 /4 cup Celery, thinly shaved
1 /2 cup Fresh roasted corn, cut from the cob
1 cup Fresh asparagus, cut into one inch pieces blanched
1 /4 cup Red onion, finely diced
2 tsp Kosher Salt
1 tsp Black pepper, freshly ground
1 quart Water
1 Tbl Liquid crab Boil

Place the water and crab boil in a large saucepot and bring to a simmer. Place the shrimp in the simmering water and cook for 4-5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon and remove the shrimp from the simmering water, and set aside.
Place the potatoes in the simmering water and cook until the potatoes are fork tender, approx. 15 minutes.
Remove the potatoes and drain thoroughly. Place in a mixing bowl with shrimp, celery, corn, asparagus, onion, and salt. Gently toss with the vinaigrette. Serve warm.

Potato Salad Vinaigrette

1 Tbl Shallot, minced
2 tsp Creole mustard
1 /4 cup Sherry vinegar
1 tsp Parsley, chopped
1 tsp Fresh tarragon, chopped
1 tsp Kosher salt
1 /2 tsp Black pepper, freshly ground
3/ 4 cup Olive oil

Place all ingredients (except olive oil) in a mixing bowl and combine. Slowly drizzle olive oil while whisking vigorously. Yield: one cup

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