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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Softshells, Hormones and Crawfish Stuffing

Hey Y'all,

It's that time of year.  You know how it is when the weather changes and you drag out the box of spring/summer clothes that you tucked away last fall.  You try on a few things and realize that there is a little bit more of you to love this year than last.  For you and me, this calls for either a diet or a shopping trip. 

Rather than going shopping, when a blue crab starts to feel a little tight inside its shell, it becomes hormonal.   Yes, hormonal. 

A hormonal crab gets a little hard inside.  It becomes "thin-skinned."  It stops eating and, because it is vulnerable to predators, it takes shelter.  It absorbs water, so much water that it can't hold it all and eventually it splits in two.   Then it begins the long difficult journey of backing out of its old shell.  Once out, the new shell fits just fine - in fact it is one third again as big so the crab has plenty of room to grow into it.

"Soft shell" is not a type of crab - it is actually the point in its development between when the crab molts (sheds its shell) and the new shell hardens.  This hardening of the shell lasts a few days but there are only a few hours when the new shell is truly soft.   Crabbers watch for signs that they are soon to molt and they put them in tanks to watch them until they finally shed and are taken out of the water.  Once out of the water, the shell will not harden.

What to do with soft shell crabs?  Two of my all-time favorite Atlanta restaurants served up some of the very best soft shell crabs with crawfish stuffing.  Neither Taste of New Orleans or Tiburon Grille is still around, but lucky for you I know their recipe for the stuffing.  Jeremy Brown, former chef at both restaurants, gave me the  recipe but he did so in typical chef fashion.  His makes 5 lbs!!  And there are very few actual measurements!  I tinkered with it and came up with what might be a reasonable amount of stuffing for a family dinner.

First, you have to clean the soft shells, unless you bought them from me, in which case they are already cleaned and ready to go.

Then you slit the crab down the middle and stuff it full of the crawfish stuffing (see recipe below).

Then you dip it in an egg/milk wash and dunk it in flour and drop it in boiling oil.

Take it out when it is golden and crispy.

Crawfish Stuffing
1 bell pepper
2 stalks celery
1 stick butter
1/4 c flour
1/4 c white wine
1 t cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
1 t thyme
1 t oregano
1t Worcestershire
1 t Tabasco
1 lb crawfish meat - chopped
1/2 c cream
1/2 c grated Parmesan cheese
Bread crumbs as needed

1.  Chop bell pepper, celery and onion coarsely and then pulse in food processor until pieces are broken up a little more.  Don't over do it.
2.  Strain and press mixture to reduce moisture.
3.  Saute vegetables in a very hot, large saute pan.
4.  Add butter and flour and stir until thickened.
5.  Add wine and reduce until thickened.
6. Add all the rest of the ingredients except the bread crumbs and reduce to a very thick paste-like consistency. 
7.  Add breadcrumbs at the end if needed to further tighten it up.

Adjust accordingly for smaller or larger batches.

Serve stuffed soft shells with remoulade or jalapeno tartar sauce.

We will be looking for a consistent supply of softshells over the next few weeks. If you would like to pre-order you can call the store at 678-957-9792 or stop by and put your name on our pre-order list.   Do it.  I promise you will thank me. 


Friday, April 3, 2015

All You Need to Know About Mussels and Catch on the Web

Dear Friends of Famously Fabulously Fresh Fish,

Guess what?  You can now buy Kathleen's Catch online!  We have lots of fans that now live in other cities and we wanted to make our products available to everyone.    Check us out here  We just went live this week, but even after months of work, there are probably still a few changes to be made so if you spot something that needs fixing, PLEASE let us know.  Take a look if you get a chance because you just might find some staff pictures and a poem or two.  Maybe you have an out of town friend or two who doesn't have access to the freshest fish available.  Send them the link - they'll thank you for it.  And so will I.

This Week's Special
In honor of halibut season, this week's special is, well, halibut.  $11.25/6 ounces.

Catch to Go
Honey Jalapeno Salmon over Black Bean and Corn Salad
Roasted Halibut with Green Beans and Asian Cilantro Sauce
Parmesan Salmon with Asparagus
Swordfish with Lemon Caper Sauce over Squash and Zucchini

All You Wanted to Know About Mussels

There's been much pent up demand for black mussels since the weather shut down operations at Prince Edward Island.  Now that they are available again, I thought I would whet your appetite with a little bit about them.  Grab some this weekend and experience these easy, inexpensive and delicious little sea treasures.

What is a rope cultured mussel?

In the spring, mussel farmers begin collecting seeds by hanging "spat collectors" or  frayed ropes from a main horizontal rope line suspended between buoys.  These collectors provide a surface for the mussel larvae that are swimming in the ocean to attach themselves to.

 Spat Collectors

Throughout the spring and summer, mussel larvae continue to attach to the collectors and by fall they have grown into seeds which are large enough to be "socked."  This process involves taking the seeds from the collectors and placing them in socks made from plastic mesh.  These socks are then hung from the horizontal rope lines and spend the winter about six feet below the surface of the water to avoid damage from the ice.


There's not much to do to care for the mussels in the socks because all the nutrients they need to survive are right there in the waters around Prince Edward Island.  The farmer's job is to keep the mussels safe from predators (starfish, seabirds), make sure the socks are clean so that the mussels can get the food in the water and to continue to add flotation to the long lines to keep it from sinking under the increasing weight of the socks.

 Starfish munching on a mussel

After about two years in the socks, the mussels are ready to harvest. In the winter, the PEI bays are covered in as much as 4 feet of ice. To harvest the mussels below the surface, growers use chain saws to cut through the ice and scuba divers to help haul the line up through the ice

 Mussel farmers driving to work - March 2015

After harvest, the mussels are taken to processing plants where they are removed from the socks, washed, graded, de-bearded  and sent to market.

Mussels at Kathleen's Catch

How to cook them?  Mussels are best if you steam them.  Try this:

Chop an onion and 6 cloves of garlic and cook in 1/4 cup of olive oil until the onion is transparent.  Stir in 3 tablespoons chopped parsley and 2 cups drained chopped canned San Marzano Tomatoes in Thick Puree, 1/4 tsp dried thyme, 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes.  Simmer all this for about 25 minutes, partially covered.

Take a look at your mussels (about 1/2 lb per person) and toss the ones that have damaged shells or do not close when they are handled.  Rinse them (no need for soaking our mussels) and  debeard any that might have been missed in the processing plant by tugging the  beard down to the hinged-end of the mussel shell and then pulling it off.

Stir the mussels into the sauce, cover the pan and cook for about three minutes, occasionally shaking the pan.  Remove any mussels that have opened and return the lid to the pan.  Continue steaming, shaking and checking until all mussels have opened and been removed.  If the mussels don't open after 8 minutes, toss them.

Season the sauce with salt and pepper and pour over the mussels.  Serve with pasta and a slab of hot bread.

What wine?  Johns Creek Wine and Crystal expert (Scott) and Kathleen's Catch wine expert (Colin) agree that Georges Burrier Saint-Veran Burgandy, 2013 ($29.99) is the perfect accompaniment.  It's lemony, tart and creamy.  Delicious. 

And Finally

Hope you have a great weekend.  It's going to be lovely weather to celebrate Easter or Spring or whatever life-affirming experience you can commemorate.  Take some Benadryl and get outside to smell the flowers.