Posted 18 May 2012 - 11:25 AM
Here in the mountains of western NC, just north of Asheville, we have had access to excellent "local", i.e. NC, soft-shells. Cape Fear Coast Seafood is a small family business that fishes off the NC coast & sells at two locations, at the weekend. They don't catch everything that they sell, but they have access to everything caught where they operate. There is often an immense & varied choice. Very fresh.
For the past 5 weeks, I have bought 4 largish softshell crabs on the Friday. Two for dinner & two for breakfast the next day. My wife will not eat them. I have tried the traditional po boy recipe, but I recently, for health reasons, decided to adopt a modified paleolithic diet - no grains, no dairy & no starchy vegetables. Not as boring as it might sound. So, for the past few weekends, I have simply been sauteing them in butter - belly side down for 4 minutes & turned for a further 3 minutes. This has been a revelation to me. A light batter dulls the taste too much. The butter-crab flavor is bright in the mouth.
Perhaps if the crabs were not already dressed - a simple process - I might shave a minute or two off the cooking time.
My breakfasts have followed the same pattern: two crabs, sliced shitake mushrooms very lightly sauteed in butter, a good dollop of guacamole & a roasted red pepper. Simple & immensely satisfying.
Alas, there are no NC crabs this weekend.
I have also eaten crabs this year at Table, in Asheville. They get them delivered while alive, which is clearly preferable. I was told that, although the season extends into summer, the source moves south (does that make sense?) & the quality declines, and so the crabs disappear from the menu. It seems that I must now wait another year.
But this is how food used to be. As a kid growing up in England, local strawberries (the only kind) were a 7-day phenomena. Expensive on the first day; inedible on the seventh. We gorged on the third & made jam on the fifth. More or less.
On our last trip to England, we stopped by a roadside stand & bought some strawberries. They were horrible. Came from Spain (should surely have been better?). We were told that, owing to the uncertainty of the weather, strawberries were no longer grown in England on any scale.
There is a Thai restaurant in Asheville where softshells are always on the menu. I generally pass. I haven't asked where they come from, but suspect the worse. Pleasant enough, but a 3 - not a 9-10.
I owe Cape Fear Coast Seafood a huge debt in another regard. I had never tasted NC redfish until I bought from them. It is a lovely versatile fish. If I get a craving for home-made fish & chips, I wait until redfish is available. It is the perfect fish for the dish. No other fish will do.
Use bigger fillets of redfish. Take the thick end (4-6 oz based on appetite; two 4 oz fillets each is also good). Scaled; skin on; pin bones removed.
Mix salt & pepper to taste into 1 cup flour. I like to taste the pepper in the crunchy batter. Some people use salt alone, & sprinkle on the cooked batter. I prefer the batter to be seasoned.
Combine with one cup of good beer. Asheville is "Beer City", so naturally, a local brew.
Fold in two egg whites that have been beaten to soft peaks.
Halve the mix if cooking for two.
Heat cooking fat to 350 degrees. Dip the fillets into into the batter & drop into the hot fat. Fry until the batter is golden brown. No precise timing here. Trial & error, depending on pan size, the amount of fat, the fillet size, & the heat source. But not many minutes at all.
This is where I'll lose people. I do no not use omega-6-rich vegetable oils & I will not use canola oil. Hard to find these days, but I fall back on lard. Lard is 45% monounsaturated fatty acid - oleic acid - as in olive oil (73%). Almost a health food [LOL] - & certainly not deserving of demonization. And the batter simply does not absorb much fat. At 350 degrees, it is a light dish. Not cloying in any way. You will eat it all.
Thanks to Jaimie Oliver for the egg white tip.