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.