Monday, May 7, 2012

Soft Shell Crabs and Roasted Potatoes

May, which is usually still early Spring, is a big tease for local, seasonal cooking: the gardens are bursting with sprouting things, while actually ready for harvest are mint, baby lettuces, chives, thyme, and rosemary. And at the same time, most winter farmers’ markets are winding down, and summer ones don’t open up again until June.  However, the few more substantial things that really are in season and available now are among the few things that really can’t be gotten any other time of year and are definitely not to be missed: fiddleheads, and soft shell crabs! Soft shell crabs are just-molted blue crabs. In addition to being delicious as blue crabs always are, when their shells are soft you can eat the whole thing: no cracking and picking and sucking, just mouthfuls of extra briny delight. Chesapeake Bay soft shells are the most famous, but blue crabs are native to the Atlantic waters from Texas to Maine, with Rhode Island offering an especially good New England source. And, believe it or not, potatoes from last season are still available! At this point, the skins on some of them are getting a little wrinkly and the eyes are starting to sprout, but that’s the perfect excuse for making peeled roasted potatoes. The outer layer of skin browns with a little crunch, while the center melts into creamy softness. We love the selection of purple, pink, yellow, and white-fleshed potatoes available at the winter farmers’ market this year. 

Soft Shell Crabs on a Bed of Baby Arugula

Serves 4

Dressed Baby Arugula
1 bunch baby arugula
2 tsp. lemon juice
3 tsp. olive oil
½ tsp. mustard
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
Mix together dressing ingredients. Toss with arugula. Arrange on four plates.

Soft Shell Crabs
2 T butter
2 T olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, minced or put through a garlic press
4 soft shell crabs
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground pepper
½ bunch cilantro, chopped (~ ½ cup)
1 lemon
One medium (10-inch) skillet fits two crabs; to serve four people piping hot at once, use two medium skillets or one large.
In each skillet, heat 1 T butter and 1 T olive oil. Stir in 1 clove minced or pressed garlic into each and sauté 1 min. Meanwhile, salt and pepper crabs on both sides. Set two crabs in each pan. Sauté over medium heat, for five minutes on each side. Place each crab over dressed arugula. Drizzle pan juices over each crab. Top with chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lemon juice. 

Roasted Peeled Potatoes
1 large or 3-4 small potatoes per person.  (Use a variety of kinds, and especially a variety of colors!)
8-12 shallots
2 T olive oil
1 tsp. coarse sea salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
Remove eyes and peel and rinse potatoes. If using large potatoes, cut into 2-3” chunks. Peel shallots.  Put potatoes and shallots in a bowl and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then spread them out on a cookie sheet or roasting pan. Roast at 400 for about an hour, stirring every 15 to 20 minutes.