Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Crab’s New Shell

There is something about springtime that signals the profound passing of seasons in the culinary world. One of the highlights of this rite of spring is the advent of soft-shell crab season.

Harvested on the East coast from late May through late August, the crabs move inshore to be refitted for their new outfit! More scientifically, every year they shed their hard shells and migrate to the safety of the warm shallow waters where the new shell hardens up. Although our local Dungeness crab undergoes a similar process, the location of the Dungeness crabs during this period is not predictable and thus they are not harvested during the soft shell phase.

This perennial event is eagerly looked forward to by those in the Seattle culinary scene. The preparation we use at Wild Ginger is a classic from Vietnam. Soft shell crabs require slightly more prep work due to the fact that you must prepare a light crust prior to final cooking but the end result is well worth the effort. The objective with any ultra-fresh seafood product is to enhance versus overwhelm. The traditional Southeast Asian bouquet of shallot, fish sauce garlic and lemongrass are a natural fit with this dish.

Should you not wish to take on triple whammy of shopping, cooking & dishes, you would be well advised to seek out these flavorful delicacies at Wild Ginger. We’ll be featuring them on our menu Wednesday thru Saturday, from now until August.

However, for those who desire the pleasure of dining in the comfort of your own home here is our recipe:

Wild Ginger Soft Shell Crab - Serves Four

4 Soft-Shell Crabs

Live crabs are the best but they're not always easy to find. To select the tastiest, use your nose. When fresh, they smell clean and astringent, like sea mist. To clean them, hold the crab in one hand, and using a pair of kitchen shears, cut off the front of the crab, about 1/2 inch behind the eyes and mouth. Squeeze out the contents of the sack located directly behind the cut you just made. Rinse and pat dry.

For the Crust

1 cup peanut oil

1 ½ cups rice flour

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp black pepper

2 eggs

For the Sauce

1-1/2 Tbl thin sliced shallot

1 tsp finely chopped garlic

1 Tbl finely sliced lemongrass

¼ cup chicken stock

1 Tbl fish sauce

1-2 tsp sugar (depending upon taste)

1 tsp black pepper

Cilantro sprigs for garnish

Heat oil in a large sauté pan until it reaches 325 degrees. Sift flour, salt and pepper together. Beat eggs in separate bowl. Immerse cleaned crabs in egg mixture. Drain slightly then roll into flour mixture. Pan-fry crab until golden brown (use caution as oil may splatter). Drain on paper towel. Remove all oil from the pan except one tablespoon. Fry shallots in this oil on medium high heat until golden, then add garlic and lemongrass, stirring constantly until fragrant, about one minute. Add chicken stock, fish sauce, sugar and pepper and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings to preference. Place crabs in pan and gently turn to coat with sauce. Plate and garnish with rough chopped cilantro. Enjoy!

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