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Feel Like a Little Crab?

May 23, 1991|JIMMY SCHMIDT

Each spring, the warming of oceans and lakes follows the greening of the landscape. As the water temperature rises, it triggers migration to summer feeding grounds, spawning for reproduction and, among blue crabs, the molting of last year's shell.

These soft-shell crabs are more expensive than their hard-shell counterparts, but you get more meat since the entire crab is consumed. Soft-shell crabs are very fragile and spoil quickly. Select fresh crabs from a credible fish dealer. Clean them by removing the apron--the triangular or key-shaped belly flap. Lift the top shell gently to expose the inside. Remove the stomach, intestines and gills--the cottony, fibrous tissues lining both sides of the body near the legs. Replace the top shell and snip the face with kitchen shears. Keep the crab well refrigerated until ready to prepare.

They are best when cooked quickly at high heat, usually with a seasoned flour or batter. Sauteing with butter or olive oil after dredging in flour creates a crisp outer skin with moist meat. Broiling also works well, but remember to turn the crab over partway through to insure even cooking.

Tart citrus flavors and piquant herbs and spices complement the sweet meat. But use moderation and simple flavor combinations.

SOFT-SHELL CRABS WITH CITRUS, CAPER AND ARUGULA SAUCE

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

Freshly ground white pepper

1/4 cup nonpareil capers, drained

1/2 cup chopped arugula

2 cups flour

2 tablespoons paprika

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup milk

12 soft-shell crabs, cleaned

16 thin slices lemon

1/4 cup chopped parsley

Combine lemon juice and 3/4 cup olive oil in small bowl. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Stir in capers and arugula. Sift together flour, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon white pepper in medium bowl. Combine eggs and milk in separate bowl.

Drench crabs and lemon slices in egg-and-milk mixture. Shake off any excess. Then dredge in seasoned flour, coating evenly. Shake off excess flour.

Pour remaining 1/4 cup olive oil into large non-stick skillet and place over high heat. Add crabs, top-side down, and avoid overlapping. Cook until golden, about 3 minutes. Turn crabs over and cook about 2 minutes or until done, depending on size.

Remove to rack or paper towels to drain and keep warm. Repeat with remaining crabs and lemon slices, using additional olive oil if necessary.

Divide crabs and lemons among serving dishes. Spoon arugula and caper sauce across crabs and sprinkle with parsley. Makes 4 servings.

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