He's got a soft spot for soft-shell crabs

CHEF'S CORNER

April 16, 2003|By Bryan Farkas | Bryan Farkas,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

There's nothing like the moment when, on a humid summer day, a tray of piping hot, steamed Maryland crabs are placed in front of you. The smell of Old Bay Seasoning takes over as you reach for a mallet. Steamed hard-shell crabs are a Maryland tradition.

As a kid growing up in Bowie, I can remember eating steamed crabs every summer. I love hard-shell crabs, but before the summer hard-shell season begins, early spring marks the start of the soft-shell crab season.

Soft-shell crabs are my absolute favorite, and I have perfected several methods of preparation, some of which are on the menu at McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant where I work.

While the preparation of hard-shell crabs is a matter of the seasonings, the preparation of soft-shell crabs is a little more intricate. To understand how to best prepare soft-shell crabs, it is necessary to know what makes a soft-shell crab good.

A fully mature blue crab will make for the best-tasting soft-shell. It is in the spring that blue crabs reach full maturity, usually when they are about 14 months old. At this point, blue crabs must molt, meaning they shed their outer skeleton, revealing a soft and almost velvety shell.

The best soft-shell crabs are caught within hours after molting. The distinct texture makes the crab taste perfect.

It is important to select the best soft-shell crabs to produce the highest quality product. At McCormick & Schmick's, we fly in our seafood daily, which makes my job easier.

At the seafood market, look for crabs that are still alive. They should move slightly when touched.

Before they are cooked, they must be cleaned. Using kitchen shears, cut across the face to remove the eyes and scaly section of the lower mouth. Lift up the sides to remove the lungs, and turn over the crab and cut off the bottom apron. The crabs now are ready to be baked, sauteed or deep-fried.

Here are some of my favorite recipes.

Bryan Farkas is the executive chef at McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant.

Soft-Shell-Crab Sandwich

Serves 1

1 soft-shell crab

1/4 cup seasoned flour

1/4 cup buttermilk

oil for deep fryer

1/2 cup waffle chips

salt to taste

1 kaiser roll

1/8 cup shredded lettuce

1 leaf green lettuce

1 tomato slice

1 red onion slice

1/8 cup tartar sauce

1 pickle spear

1 lemon wedge

Dredge crab in flour, then in buttermilk, then in flour once again. Place in deep fryer and cook until golden-brown. Drop waffle chips in fryer and also cook until golden-brown with salt to taste.

On the bottom half of the roll place shredded lettuce, and then place the crab on top of the shredded lettuce. Place leaf lettuce, tomato, onion and tartar sauce on crab.

Serve pickle and lemon wedge on the side.

Pan-Fried Soft-Shell Blue Crabs

Serves 2

1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus a little more for sauce

2 soft-shell crabs

1/4 cup seasoned flour

1/8 cup chopped garlic

1/4 cup white wine

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup butter

1 parsley sprig

Put oil in saute pan and heat almost to smoking point. Dredge crab in flour and carefully place in saute pan and cook until crisp and golden-brown.

Take a little oil and heat in a separate pan. Add garlic (do not brown); deglaze with wine. Add salt and pepper, remove from heat and incorporate butter. Place crabs in the center of the plate and pour sauce over the top of the crabs. Garnish with parsley.

Serve with rice pilaf and steamed vegetables.

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