Thursday, May 18, 2006

Soft-Shell Crabs Prepared in a Wonderful Non-Conventional Way

First I have to wonder: Was Pacifica in San Diego sourcing soft-shell crabs that were alive prior to 1992, when its then chef authored Pacifica Blue-Plates?

Soft-shells really need to be alive until shortly before cooking, or look out! Going with frozen can be worse. I know that the vast majority of soft-shell crabs served in restaurants around the country are frozen. In the off-season, for that matter, there's no other way. Take it from a native Marylander who really knows about cooking soft-shell crabs. Enjoy them when they're in season. If you're going to cook them, purchase them alive. If ordering them in a restaurant, ask when they died.

My conclusion: Pacifica was getting them live. Pacifica Blue Plates is one of my favorite cookbooks. Everything I've prepared from it has been so good that it's inconceivable to me that a recipe using frozen soft-shells could have been deemed worthy. Pacifica Blue Plates was my primary "text" in terms of the direction in which "New American" cuisine began heading in the earlry 90's. Althought the primary influences from which it draws are Southwestern, Caribbean, and Pacific Rim, it's nice to enjoy such an "Inland Atlantic" specialty so influenced in terms of its preparation.

The chipotle honey drizzled at the finish is a sauce to die for in itself, even though nothing more than 1/2 cup of honey, 1/4 cup of tomato paste, and a teaspoon of canned chipotle mixed together in a bowl. As for the avocado, no need to get fancy. Just throw a couple of peeled avocados into a mini Cuisine-Art or blender with a tablespoon of lime juice. Forget the lime juice, and watch the pureed avocado quickly turn an ugly brown. Then, using egg, water, flour, and crushed tortilla chips, only the top shell gets breaded. Here, in the recipe below, you'll find some elaboration about that breading that goes a little beyond what's in the book.

I take exception to Mrs. Yi, who after referring to this dish as special and delicious, questioned whether all the extraneous ingredients might not distract from the simple delight of enjoying a fresh soft-shell crab for what is. In my opinion, they make it even better, knowing full-well that if it's frozen soft-shells you might as well forget about anything working.


2 avocados, peeled and pitted
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 teaspoon canned chipotle chile, pureed
1 large egg
2 tablespoons water
4 large fresh alive soft-shell crabs, cleaned
1/4 cup flour
1 cup red tortilla chips, crushed---or use yellow
4 tablespoons sweet butter

In a food processor or blender, process the avocado and lime juice until completely smooth. Set aside. Mix the honey, tomato paste, and chipotle chile puree in a small bowl until combined. In a separate bowl, combine the egg and water, mixing well with a fork. Dredge the crab, shell side only, by passing through the egg wash, the flour, back through the egg wash, and finally into the tortilla crumbs. The book says to pass directly through the egg wash, then the flour, then the tortilla crumbs, but if you don't pass it through the egg wash again between the flour and the crumbs, the crumbs wont stick. In a skillet over moderate heat, melt the butter and add the crab. Cook approximately 3 minutes on each side, shell side first, until done. To serve, distribute the avocado puree among 4 plates, place the soft-shell crab atop the avocado bed, and drizzle chipotle honey over the crab. Serves 4

With minor revision from Pacifica Blue Plates, by Neil Stuart, Ten Speed Press, Berkely, CA, 1992


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