seize the season

food detective

Categories: Fish and Seafood, Dinner for Two, Supper, Dinner Party, Posted on June 5, 2021 by Sandy Bergsten

When I returned to Chicago, I was delighted to discover that the second-floor markets at Eataly had reopened. What a treat to once again see the cases filled with aged beef, homemade pastas, a world of cheeses and charcutier, the freshest of fish. I felt like a little kid window shopping at Christmas.

It was liberating to do something that felt enjoyably routine. My only decision in that moment was what to make for dinner. Everything else just melted away. And the choices were endless. Then I saw them, a row of soft-shelled crabs nestled on ice, and the selection was settled. 

Traditionally the first full moon in May heralds the start of these crabs’ short season. This May’s moon was not only a full Flower Moon, but also a supermoon and total lunar eclipse. It seemed destined that four of these molted crustaceans would make their way into my shopping basket and onto our dinner plates.

The crabs are shipped live. Right before cooking you need to clean the gills and remove the eyes. If preparing the same day, feel free to ask your fishmonger to do this task for you.

For soft shelled crabs clarified butter is essential, otherwise the crabs will burn in the milk solids found in plain melted butter. To clarify melt a stick of butter over low heat. Allow to sit for three minutes. 

Skim the froth off the top and slowly pour the clear butter into a cup, leaving the milky solids in bottom of pan. A stick of butter will yield five to six tablespoons of clarified butter. This can be ahead of time. Clarified butter will keep covered in the refrigerator for weeks.

Wondra (the wonder flour!) provides the perfect dusting for a light crisp crust. Measure a cup into a shallow dish.

In another shallow dish combine a cup of whole milk, a teaspoon of kosher salt, and a quarter teaspoon of freshly ground pepper. Let the crabs soak for a at least five minutes.

One at a time lift the crabs out of milk, letting the excess drip off, then dredge in the flour. Knock off excess flour and transfer to a tray. 

Repeat with remaining crabs.

Heat four tablespoons of clarified butter in a large nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Sauté the crabs, topside down for two minutes.

Turnover and sauté for two to three minutes more until golden brown.

Spritz with fresh lemon juice and sprinkle with chopped fresh Italian parsley and serve immediately. 

Lemon asparagus makes an exceptional side for this ephemeral entree.

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