Soft-shell crabs: a simple pleasure

Seafood: Those delicate morsels of summer have a sweet taste that doesn't need a lot of seasonings or sauces.

June 23, 1999|By Bev Bennett | Bev Bennett,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

The way I hover around my local fish counter could remind one of a predatory creature of the deep. I'm like a shark looking for a delicate morsel. Specifically, I'm hunting for soft-shell crabs.

Such a short season; such a large appetite. Usually by early summer, my impatience is rewarded and I can splurge on the sweet taste of crabs.

There are many qualities that make soft-shells a favorite seafood. I like the portion control. Two large or three medium crabs make a serving. I like the simplicity. The flavor is not enhanced with a lot of seasonings or sauces. I like the fresh taste. Soft-shell crabs should be alive when purchased. They're killed in the cleaning process, which any fishmonger will do.

What I don't like is the mess. Crabs are very juicy, and when they hit hot fat in a skillet, I'm in for grease splatters. I've been playing around with flour coatings to prevent this explosion. Drying the crabs and dusting them with flour will help. But my best solution is to toss the crabs in the oven instead of cooking them on the stove top. I brush the crabs with oil, melted butter and garlic and roast them in a hot oven for a few minutes. They come out crisp and browned on the outside, moist on the inside. It's a simple and fail-proof preparation.

Although I don't like a lot of additions to a dish of soft-shell crabs, I make an exception to mayonnaise. The contrast of creamy mayo and crisp crabs is marvelous.

Recently, I attended a Chicago trade show for the fancy-food industry. Flavored mayonnaises using herbs, chilies and spices were all the rage. A fiery mayonnaise is the perfect match for soft-shell crabs. It takes two minutes to make a delicious version of one of these fancy-food products. My recipe uses sun-dried tomatoes, chipotle chili power, lemon juice and a good-quality, store-bought mayonnaise. The recipe can be varied to taste.

The hotter the mayonnaise accompaniment, the more refreshing a salad of fennel and red onion will be. Some people find that chewing on fennel seeds calms the stomach. Fresh fennel slices do the trick as well.

Roasted Soft-Shell Crab

Serves 2

CRABS:

4 large soft-shell crabs, cleaned

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1 garlic clove, minced

SAUCE:

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder (see note) or hot pepper sauce

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon minced, oil-packed sun-dried tomato

To prepare Crabs, place them on foil-lined baking sheet. In cup, combine oil, melted butter and garlic. Brush over crabs. Roast crabs at 500 degrees 8 to 10 minutes until crackling and nicely browned.

Meanwhile, to prepare Sauce, in cup, combine mayonnaise, chipotle chili powder, lemon juice and sun-dried tomato. Stir well.

To serve, place 2 crabs on each plate. Spoon sauce on the side. Serve immediately.

Note: Using 1/8 teaspoon chili powder is comfortably hot; 1/4 teaspoon is very hot.

Fennel and Red Onion Salad

Serves 2

1 small fennel

1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced

1/4 teaspoon cumin seed

2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley

3 to 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

salt, freshly ground white pepper

Trim leafy stalks and bulb end off fennel. Slice bulb in half vertically, then thinly slice crosswise. Thinly slice 1 to 2 inches fennel stems before leaves start. Place fennel in salad bowl along with onion and parsley.

In cup, combine cumin seed, 3 teaspoons lemon juice, oil and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well and pour over salad. Toss well. Salad should have slightly tart flavor. Add remaining 1 teaspoon lemon juice if necessary.

Pub Date: 06/23/99

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