Monday, June 8, 2009

Soft-shell Crabs and Clementine

Soft-shell crabs are in season now. They are (usually blue) crabs that have outgrown their shell and molted. For a few days before the newly growing shell gets too hard, the crab is still soft enough to be eaten in its entirety. I love it. It's a texture thing for me. My husband does not. It's a texture thing for him, too. They are chewy and crunchy and salty. My mouth is watering. The recipe below is loosely based on one from Taste Magazine, a short-lived but excellent publication from Williams-Sonoma. I think it was too technical, complicated, and frou frou for most readers, and it only lasted two years. I kept every issue. The photos were gorgeous, the ingredients often hard to find. It was delightful.

Grilled Soft-shell Crab Salad

Serves 6 as an appetizer or 3 for dinner.

6 fresh soft-shell crabs, rinsed in cool water
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 avocado
1 jicama, peeled
1 bunch watercress, approximately 3 cups
1 lemon

Heat grill to nice hot temp.
Pat crabs dry, rub with olive oil and liberally salt and pepper them.
Turn gas grill to medium or use cooler side of charcoal grill. Grill crabs for a few minutes on each side, until orange-ish pink.

Remove from grill, put on plate, and cover to keep warm.

Cut avocado into 1/2 inch or so cubes and cut jicama into 1 to 2 inch sticks and put in a bowl. Chop watercress and add to bowl. (A note on watercress: I'm used to bruised, damp watercress that is smushed into a bunch. But, on rare occasions, the grocery store has watercress of a different variety. It's larger, very green, and has whole, un-battered leaves. It's not rotting in damp water so it looks not only edible, but delicious. I didn't understand the joys of 'cress until I found this. It's worth looking for.)

Squeeze lemon over veggies, drizzle with a few tablespoons olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss. Put on plates. Place 1 or 2 crabs on each plate, depending on whether this is an app or the entree. Enjoy.

I am reading "Clementine in the Kitchen" by Samuel Chamberlain, written in 1943. (Get it from the library, or, if you are in the Boston area, get it from one of our many great independent bookstores.) It's a charming book about an American family that was living in France until World War II forced them to move back to the United States. They brought their cook with them and in between mouth-watering recipes, they tell of her introduction to American cooking and shopping.

One anecdote in particular spoke to me. They took her to a supermarket for the first time. She was used to a small French town with the butcher separate from the baker separate from the grocer, etc. The entire family was overwhelmed by the mixes ("just add water and get pancakes, muffins, cakes! Hubby will love it, ladies!") and by the packaged food. They were surprised that even spinach was wrapped in cellophane. Clementine left with only things she could have bought back home: butter, flour, cheese. The author remarks that the family was delighted that she didn't succumb to the packaging and that they would continue to eat good food.

How fitting for today's movement back to locally-grown foods, seasonal foods, cloth bags. We have a long way to go, but it's very interesting to see where the insanity began, how far it has progressed, and maybe, hopefully, that there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel marking the end to the crazy way we have been eating for the last 70 years.