By Chef Bobby Huber, Bobbywood, Norfolk, VA.
Norfolk, VA (May 2008)… The full moon in May generally is the start of the soft-shell crab season and typically runs thru September. I relish the soft-shell season, as for me it triggers a creative processes that reinvigorates the creativity that slipped into hibernation in the later parts of winter. The genesis of a new spring season wears bears witness the vegetables popping thru the soil, baby calves and lambs frolicking in the meadows and the warm weather brings lighter, not so “dressed up” dishes allowing the freshness of the food to do the talking.
To insure a great soft-shell, simply start with ones that are still alive.
Bobbywood in Norfolk, VA.
I pity those above the Mason/Dixon Line who probably have never truly had great soft-shells, because fisherman let the shells get to “paper” so they will ship better. They are best enjoyed when they feel “silk” or “velvety” Enjoy these morsels and pay homage to Mother Nature and all the bounty!
Preparation Note: To clean a soft-shell, turn the crab over white side up. Pull away the flap that identifies the crab as either male or female and cut off. Males have a pointed flap while females have rounded off rectangular flap. While the crab is still bottom side up make a 3/16” cut along the other edge to cut off the “face.”
Pick the crab up in your palm, right side up, and with a small paring knife flip up each tip of the shell and cut away the lungs, also known as the “dead man fingers”
Set the crab down, and with a small teaspoon, hold upside down, and slip it in under the shell to scoop out the organs also referred to as the “mustard”
Throughout this whole process, remember that soft shells are very fragile. Use low torque in all endeavors. Ideally you want to complete the cleaning process with the shell and claws still attached.
Crispy Soft Shells with Mango Ketchup and Mardi Gras Slaw
For the Crabs:
2 large or 3 small crabs, gutted, lungs remove, sex organ removed soaked in buttermilk
For the Mango Ketchup:
1 1/2 Teaspoons Saffron
½ C Yellow Onion Cut Up
¼ Teaspoon Nutmeg
½ Teaspoon Cinnamon
¼ Teaspoon Curry Powder
½ oz Ginger Fresh peeled
¾ C Champagne Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Cornstarch
1 Bay Leaves
1 Teaspoons White Pepper
3 Mangos Peeled and cut up
½ cup packed Brown Sugar
½ Cup Honey
For the Mardi Gras Slaw:
1 head Napa cabbage (chiffonade)
1 red pepper (julienne)
1 yellow pepper (julienne)
1 green pepper (julienne)
½ red onion (julienne)
3 Serrano peppers (thinly sliced)
For the Lemon Vinaigrette:
1 c lemon juice
½ cup sugar
½ cup rice wine vinegar
4 oz. malt vinegar
½ cup blended oil
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
¼ teaspoon sea salt
For the Crabs:
Preheat a deep fryer or cast skillet with oil deep enough to cover crabs to 350 degrees. Drain the crabs and tossed in flour, shake off excess and fry until crispy. About 2 mins
For the mango ketchup:
Place Everything but honey, brown sugar and mango puree into a blender and puree on high speed for 5 minutes. Place in sauce pot and add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.
Take off heat and strain through a chinois
For the lemon Vinaigrette:
Place Everything in blender and blend keep at room temp
For the presentation:
Mix the slaw with vinaigrette place crabs on top and then glaze with the mango ketchup
Note: This makes about 1qt of Mango Ketchup keep refrigerated and use on all seafood or it is also great on turkey burgers!
Love to cook, eat with passion!
Chef Bobby Huber
Chef Bobby Huber is the owner of, Bobbywood, Norfolk, VA and a contributor to Donne Tempo Travel and Culinary Magazine’s Food & Spirits Section.
Learn more about Chef Huber in Donne Travels Celebrated Chefs’ Community.