Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Summertime Standard - Soft Shell Crab


A few years ago, Chef Hopkins considered the "Tower of Crab" to be one of his signature dishes.   Guests raved about it, and we toy with the idea of bringing it back every now and then.   Whether or not in tower formation, you can bet that when the season is right and the fishmongers can deliver incredibly fresh soft shell crab, it will on our menu.  We thought guests might like to know a bit more about what a soft shell crab actually is...seriously, haven’t you ever wondered why their shells are soft? 

Actually, the term “soft-shell” refers to crabs that have recently molted their exoskeleton, and are therefore still soft. Most soft-shell crabs in the US are of the blue crab species and at their freshest from April to September. Folklore, says that the soft-shell crab season begins with the first full moon in May, which is when the blue crab fattens up and begins molting to accommodate its summer growth. This is how soft-shell crabs have become so closely associated with summer: it's the season in which they are the freshest and the largest. The extra fat makes soft-shell crabs particularly flavorful. 

The actual shedding of the shell can take anywhere from one to three hours. Once the shell is shed completely the crab must immediately be removed from the water or else its new shell will begin to harden again due to chemical reactions with the sea water.  Virginia and Maryland crabbers have a trick to telling when these crabs are about to molt: a pink dot, which is the new shell just barely peeking through the old one, appears on the crab’s back fin about one week before they “bust,” or shed.  There are five different sizes of soft-shell crab, determined by the width of their shell. They are whales, jumbo, primes, hotels and mediums.
 
The blue crab’s scientific name, Callinectes sapidus, means beautiful savory swimming.  We agree.  They are beautiful, and are known to have be sweet and tender, yet with a mildly tangy flavor.  We have just received a delightful shipment of jumbo soft-shell crabs from the Chesapeake Bay area, which will be fried in cornmeal and served with a cold cucumber cream soup poured tableside. 

Come enjoy a dressed-up summertime favorite.

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