Mains, Recipes

Soft-Shell Crabs with Corn, Avocado and Tomato Salsa

 

Ted and I both grew up marking the beginning of summer by eating soft-shell crabs—him at the Jersey Shore, me in Washington D.C. Soft shells are blue crabs from the Chesapeake Bay in their molting state; they fatten up as they get ready to shed their shells, which accounts for their sweet, rich flavor. They are in season from early spring—when they are most plentiful—to early fall.

While we usually eat Maine fish and seafood, we make an exception for soft shells. When the first ones of the season appeared at our favorite fish market—Harbor Fish Market in Portland—a few weeks ago, they were $6 each, and pretty small. We know the time is right when the size goes up and the price drops; these nice big ones were $3 each.

Cooking soft shells couldn’t be simpler. Dredge them in a little seasoned flour, and saute in a hot pan (cast iron is ideal if you have one) for a few minutes on each side. We like to use a combination of butter and olive oil—butter for flavor, olive oil because all butter burns easily at high heat.

Serve with a squeeze of lemon and you’re good to go. We sometimes get fancy with a pan sauce of white wine, capers, and a little more butter swirled in at the end, but this fresh salsa is a new favorite. The tomato adds brightness and acidity, the avocado adds richness and the fresh corn is a promise that summer is almost here.

Notes:

  • Be sure to ask your fish market to clean the softshell crabs for you.
  • Feel free to adjust the amount of cilantro, or if you’re one of those people who can’t stand it, eliminate it altogether.
  • If you can’t get good fresh corn, 2 cups frozen corn can be substituted.
  • The salsa is also great with chicken, or corn chips!

 

 

Soft-Shell Crabs with Corn, Avocado and Tomato Salsa

Yield: Serves 2

  • For salsa:
  • 2 ears fresh corn
  • 1 ripe but still firm avocado, diced
  • 1 large ripe tomato, diced
  • 1 large scallion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • For crabs:
  • 4 soft shell crabs, cleaned
  • flour for dredging
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Prepare the salsa:
  • Steam corn and slice off the cob. Transfer to medium-sized bowl.
  • Add avocado, tomato, scallion, cilantro and lime juice, mix well.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside at room temperature while you cook the crabs.
  • Prepare the crabs:
  • Season the flour with salt and pepper and coat the crabs lightly on both sides.
  • Heat the butter in a heavy skillet (cast iron is ideal) over medium-high heat until hot and foamy.
  • Add garlic and saute until it just starts to cook.
  • Add the crabs in a single layer. Cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. If the garlic starts to burn, push it to the side of the skillet.
  • Serve crabs immediately with salsa on the side.
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