Sunday, May 29, 2011

Soft-Shell Crabs Meuniere (sort of)

Soft-shell crabs are a controversial crustacean.  Most folks I've polled either: a.) never heard of them, b.) have heard of them but don't want to try them because they sound unappetizing,  c.) think they are completely gross (because why would anyone eat a crab whole?), or d.) OMG,  LOVE THEM!

Let it be known that I fall under category "d".

Because live soft-shell crabs are only available for a few short months out of the year (during the brief time period when the blue crab sheds (molts) its shell in preparation to grow a new one), I relish the opportunity to get my hands on these little guys every chance I get.  Alas, there are many folks out there who feel the same way about them as I do, so they can be tricky to find. "Sorry, we just sold out" is something you'll often hear during soft-shell season, but today I got lucky! Our local fish market had exactly 4 crabs left when I called to inquire and I think I startled the poor girl who answered the phone when I blurted out, "HOLD THEM FOR ME!  I'LL BE THERE IN 10 MINUTES!!!"

This, my friends, is the end result:  insanely delicious soft-shell crabs meuniere, garlic whipped potatoes and roasted asparagus (pay no attention to the ominous shadow in this photo.  I never claimed to be a world-class food photographer).

Let's do this!

This recipe serves two hungry people or four skinny people

1 cup milk
4 live soft-shell crabs, cleaned (ask your fishmonger to clean them for you if you don't know how)
1 cup Wondra (or all-purpose) flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 Tbsp. butter (divided)
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup dry white wine (optional)
Fresh chopped Italian parsley for garnish (optional)
Place crabs in a single layer in a shallow container and add milk.  Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 1 - 2 hours.

Combine flour, salt, black pepper and cayenne in a shallow bowl or plate and set aside.  When ready to cook, remove crabs from milk, let excess drip off, and dredge in flour.  Knock off excess flour and transfer coated crabs to a plate in a single layer.

Heat olive oil and 2 Tbsp. butter in a large nonstick skillet over moderately high heat.  Saute crabs, upside down for 3 minutes.  Turn over and saute for another 3 minutes.  Crabs should be golden brown.
Transfer crabs to a serving plate and cover loosely with foil.

Lower heat to medium, add remaining 2 Tbsp. butter to skillet and cook until golden brown.  Add wine and lemon juice and cook for 2 - 3 minutes, until the alcohol burns off.  Taste sauce for seasonings and add salt and pepper to taste.

Drizzle sauce over crabs and sprinkle with chopped parsley, if desired.

*Note:  classic Meuniere sauce does not include olive oil or white wine, but I think a splash of wine adds a nice punch of flavor, and replacing half of the butter with olive oil makes it slightly more heart friendly.