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.
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
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.