Monday, June 25, 2007

Crab Month Ends on a High Note

I really should have called my dad.

Earlier, as I set out for ShopRite, I told Margy: If they still have soft-shell crabs, I'm getting some. It's the end of June; time is running out.

And what do you know, there they were, languishing in short stacks behind the glass. "Are they alive?" I asked.

"Some of them," said the fish guy, rooting around the crab bin. "But they're fresh -- they just came in today. Oh, look, that one's alive."

"I'll take four."

He knows that if something isn't up to par, then I don't need it that day. He found me four good plumpies.

Now I had to think about frying. For what was surely our last fling of SSC season, it was fry or bust. The first three times, I went with the grill, which was great, but I've regretted not breaking out the peanut oil. Sputter and pop all you want, crabs -- you're taking a hot bath.

In a way, frying was only the beginning, because my overarching scheme was to make soft-shell crab po' boys. I'd never had one, though an oyster po' boy I ate once at a place that used to be on 1st Street at 1st Avenue in NYC was until today my favorite sandwich ever.

The idea of a soft-shell crab po' boy just seemed too good to be true. It reminded me of reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a kid and poring over passages that mentioned the delectable-seeming but hopelessly exotic Turkish delight. This is just a fantasy food, I'd think while I drooled on my OshKosh dungarees.

But somehow I knew soft-shell crab po' boys existed, and I knew how I wanted to make my version. (And I'm still traumatized by the fact that real Turkish delight isn't as good as C.S. Lewis made it sound, though the deconstructed version at Zaytinya in Washington, DC, might be even better.)

While Margy broke out the mandoline to julienne carrot, zucchini, and apple for a slaw, I started with a recent Mark Bittman recipe from the Times for the basic frying method, which was fantastic. I dipped the crabs in a mixture of egg and milk, then dredged them in a 50-50 blend of flour and cornmeal and slipped them into a hot quarter-inch of oil. Good things started to happen.

To make the sandwiches, I broiled split foot-long rolls (coming just a second within having mine go up in flames) and layered them with chipotle mayo, baby red leaf from our garden, sliced pickles, and slivered red onion. On each roll went a crab and a half. That meant there was even a whole crispy, golden-brown crustacean left over for Pops, had I had the foresight to tip him off. What a lousy son.

After Margy wisely decided that one enormous sandwich was enough for her, I ate the fourth crab with a knife and fork and my fingers, drizzling it now and then with lemon juice. I saved a crunchy claw for last.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Greatest Sunday

Our farmers' market is open.

Nothing against ShopRite, but from now until mid-November we're pretty much all about the Jersey produce, grown locally, bought locally, eaten as soon as possible. And it's amazing to see what a difference a few thousand miles makes. Right now, supermarket berries are pretty good. But the ones at the farmers' market? Amazing. Margy and I bought a box of some of the juiciest strawberries we've ever had, and we found blueberries that taste exactly like... blueberries! It's the best.

I also picked up a big box of fava beans, which I had never dealt with before. I got home and read up on the ingredient, and suddenly the big box of beans seemed a lot smaller. First, you shell the beans. Then you blanch and peel them (unless they're very young and tiny, which mine weren't). The usable portion is minuscule. So I drove back to the market.

"Didn't you just get some of these?" said the guy at the stand as I grabbed a second helping. I'm guessing he's never cooked with fava beans.

A while after I got home and went to work on, oh, a hundred pods or so, I stood back from my kitchen table to see a craggy green mountain of empty casings casting a shadow over a small bowl of beans. A while after that, once I'd dropped the beans into boiling water, rinsed them, and slid off their skins, I could fit the foundation of our dinner in the cupped palms of my hands. I allowed myself to eat a single fava bean. It was ultrafresh and delicious.

I boiled about four-fifths of the beans in chicken broth along with more farmers'-market bounty -- garlic scapes and sweet summer onions -- plus oregano and parsley from our garden. Then I puréed this glorious stew and warmed it up on the stove with the rest of the whole beans and served it over spaghetti, garnished with fried garlic and the sliced green tops of the onions.

Summer really is here, and having access to ingredients like these makes those stifling, sticky days a lot easier to handle, and a lot more tasty.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Crab Month Marches (Sideways) On

Another plate of grilled crabs, even simpler still this time. All they had was a dusting of kosher salt and cracked white and black pepper. I also made soy-honey salmon.

I'm starting to feel like I'm torturing my father every time I mention my crabby exploits. He loves dear, sweet, crunchy-meaty soft-shells as much as I do, but my mom, who's the sole cook in their house, claims to be allergic. It's not hard to do the math: Pops hasn't had a crab all year. I keep telling my mom that even supermarkets sell the things now -- she says she's willing to feed my dad as many crabs as he wants, if only she could find some -- but apparently my parents have moved too far away from civilization to have access to such exotic creatures. I gotta have Dad over for dinner.