It's that glorious season in the sea for one of my favorites-- soft shell crab, the blue crab in its molten state, and I had the opportunity to share these succulent treasures with the Texas Farmers' Markets this weekend, courtesy of my friends, K&S Seafood. They need little more than a well-seasoned dredging, and are simple and quick to prepare. They typically come into season when they shed their winter shell, around the first full moon in May (and as I write this, I see that very moon shining brightly outside my window), and will remain in season through September, generally.Check with Scott, or your local fishmonger, for availability.
Soft shell crabs are often marketed by size, measured across the back from point to point, and vary in width from about 3 and 1/2 inches to as large as 5 inches breadth. It takes only a few hours for the shedding of their shell to occur, at which point they are removed from the water to prevent the formation of the new exoskeleton. They have a sweet, mildly tangy flavor, with a slight tooth to the emergent shell similar to tender sausage casing, with buttery meat sandwiched between. A 3 and 1/2 ounce crab contains only 83 calories, is low in fat, and high in protein and Omega-3 fatty acids.
The lightly dredged and pan-fried crabs were served along side cheesy, creamy polenta, prepared with OrganicareFarms coarse-grind organic cornmeal, who also provided finer-ground cornmeal for dredging the crabs, as well as cured ham steaks which seasoned Smothered Collard Greens, prepared with spring garlic, and spring onions, all from the fields of JBG Organics. Additional market vendor products used were Dos Lunas cheese, and Texas Hill Country Olive Co. Balsamic Vinegar.
For helpful instructional videos on cleaning soft shell crabs, cooking polenta, and cleaning and preparing collard greens, please visit last week's preparatory post on Notes from Maggie's Farm.
Soft Shell Crab on Cheesy Polenta with Smothered Collard Greens
Soft Shell Crab
Allow 1 large, or 2 small crabs per serving
Soft shell crabs, cleaned and trimmed (see note, below)
2 cups finely ground cornmeal
½t cayenne pepper
1t coarse ground black pepper
¼ cup neutral-flavored cooking oil for frying such as grapeseed oil
In a large mixing bowl, combine cornmeal, salt, cayenne pepper, and black pepper, mixing well.
In a heavy skillet, heat oil over medium high heat until shimmering. Drop a pinch of cornmeal mix into skillet—oil is hot enough when cornmeal sizzles. Adjust heat as necessary. Add dredged crabs, top side down, leaving enough space to move the crabs around freely, about 3 at a time, according to size. Fry about 4 minutes per side, turning midway through, or until blue “shells” turn red, and cornmeal is golden brown. Remove from heat and drain on paper toweling.
Note: Find instructional video for cleaning soft shell crabs here.
Allow 1 cup prepared polenta per serving. For 8 servings, use
1 cup coarse grind cornmeal
2 cups unsalted chicken stock
2 cups water
1T coarse grind salt
2t white pepper
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (or finely grated hard cheese of your choice)
¼ c extra virgin olive oil (or butter, if you're indulgent)
In a Dutch oven, bring stock, water, salt and white pepper to a boil. Slowly pour cornmeal into water, whisking briskly to avoid clumps. Cover and cook for approximately 45 minutes at a low boil, stirring occasionally. Add liquid as necessary, to maintain creamy texture. When cornmeal is tender and creamy and has lost its “grit”, stir in cheese and olive oil, whisking until smooth.
Note: For helpful hints in preparing polenta, see instructional video here.
Smothered Collard Greens
For 6-8 one cup servings, gather
2 bunches of collard greens, rinsed well, trimmed from stems and separated, leaves thinly shredded and stems sliced thinly (see note, below)
1 small cured ham steak, cut in large dice, to yield 1-2 cups
4T grapeseed oil, divided
1 small bulb spring garlic, peeled and minced finely
6 spring onions (roughly golf to tennis ball-sized), peeled and sliced thinly
1t cracked red pepper flakes
1T balsamic vinegar
1c stock or water
Pat cleaned and trimmed collard greens dry and set aside.
In a heavy bottomed pan, cook chopped ham slowly, rendering fat over medium low heat. When firm, add grapeseed oil to rendered fat to make approximately 2 tablespoons. Add minced garlic and sauté with ham, stirring frequently over medium heat, until golden. Remove from skillet with a slotted spoon and reserve.
Add enough grapeseed oil to pan to yield approximately 2 tablespoons. Sauté sliced onions with sliced collard green stems until wilted. Add shredded leaves to pan, and return ham and garlic mixture, combining all well. Season with salt, red pepper flakes, and balsamic vinegar, stirring well.
Add stock or water to pan, bring to a healthy simmer, cover, and cook until wilted, about 20 minutes or to desired tenderness. Correct seasonings.
Note: For instructional video on cleaning and trimming collard greens, visit this link.
To serve, mound polenta on plate or rimmed soup bowl, spoon collard greens in the center, and top with freshly-fried soft shell crabs. Enjoy.