Sunday, May 10, 2009

Panko and Scallion Fried Soft-Shell Blue Crab

The one unique characteristic of crustaceans (crabs, lobsters, shrimp) is its hard outer shell. In order for these creatures to grow, it has to shed its shell and replace it with a new and bigger one every year, much like how a snake sheds its skin. This process is known as molting. When this happens, the molting animal is very vulnerable and has only a soft shell covering its body. The soft shell will slowly harden over time. Between the months of May and July, Maryland blue crabs start molting and before the shells harden, they are harvested and sold as soft-shell crabs that are quite a delicacy. And the best thing about soft-shell crabs? The entire crab is edible: legs, claws, body, everything! Absolutely nothing is wasted.

T'is the season for soft-shell crabs and I've managed to get my hands on four of these delicious crustaceans. There are two popular ways to cook soft-shells: deep frying or pan frying. For this dish, I opted to deep fry them as they really look spectacular when coated with Japanese panko crumbs and deep frying them until golden brown in color.

However, before we start, the crabs need to be "prepared" for cooking. Soft-shell crabs are usually sold live and they have to be cleaned. Using a pair of sharp scissors, start off by snipping across the front portion of the crab, mainly the eyes and mouth area. Then lift the pointy side flaps and remove the gills with the scissors. Finally, turn the crab over and on the rear end, remove yet another flap. I know that this may not be most people's idea of humanely killing an animal but this is the most efficient way to do it and it is done in most restaurants.

Now that the gory deed is done, let's prepare for deep frying. You will need three mixing bowls, one to hold the egg wash, one for the flour and the third one contains the panko crumbs. For this dish, I added chopped scallions strips and also traditional Old Bay seasoning to the panko. Get your deep fryer nice and hot. First coat the crab with egg wash, then flour, egg wash again and finally, the panko crumbs. Deep fry them until golden brown and you have yourself a deliciously crunchy and mouth-watering dish.

As a side dish, I blanched some asparagus and cooked up some mushrooms, shallots and garlic with a touch of cream and dry sherry. Serve the fried crabs on a bed of field greens and voila!, a dish that would definitely be the center of attention at any dinner party. Dig in!

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