Soft Shell Crabs

includes soft shel crab parissienne 023

 Soft Shell Crabs Parisienne Styleincludes soft shel crab parissienne 023

   “Papa”

“To talk about soft shell crabs I am always reminded of my dad.  He loved the ocean.  My dad taught us everything about the ocean, seafood and how to enjoy them both! Before I go on to discuss soft shell crabs as promised I would like to share my memories of my dad.  I will refer him as Papa! 

   Papa had the biggest smile I had ever seen!  In fact everything about Papa was big except in stature.  He was only 5’7”.  Not only was he always impeccably dressed, he always had a tan.  He wore lots of rings and his pinkie ring was a huge diamond!  As far as I can remember he always owned a red convertible.   

   It wasn’t always like this for my Dad.  He was born in the little town of Monte di Procida.  It has an area of less than 1 ½ square miles. Located on the southern coast of Italy near Naples, this little panoramic town is almost isolated from the rest of the towns.  It sits on a perch overlooking the Gulf of Naples, the many towns below it and if you stand at my uncle’s house one can even see Sorrento and Gaeta as your eyes follow the coastline.  The islands of Procida and Ischia are so close you can almost reach out to touch them and on a clear day Capri too!  Its unique harbor has been utilized in ancient times since the Greeks.  Now the harbor is filled with a fleet of fishing boats!   My father grew up during WWII.  During this time the beautiful town was also a strategic point for the Germans.  It was used as a base for torpedo practice.  Papa would often tell us some scary stories about that time. It was because of WWII and it’s destruction that my dad was determined to come to America for a better life.  America changed my Dad’s life for the better and he became this bigger than life character that we looked up to!

   One year when I was 9 years old he took all of us on a transcontinental cruise. Not only did he take his family but he also brought along his red Pontiac convertible. So my dad,  along with my mom, my brother, my sister, I and the red Pontiac convertible crossed the Atlantic making several stops including,  Portugal, the rock of Gibraltar, Spain, Genoa and finally Naples.  I still can picture him and Nonna (his mom) driving with the top down in the little town of Monte di Procida.  Nonna with a kerchief on her head to protect her hair from the wind sat so proudly next to her son.  The red Pontiac convertible was as big as my dad’s ego!  But unfortunately the fancy American car was not made for the narrow ancient streets that St. Paul once crossed on his way to Rome to see Caesar. Without a care in the world my dad squeezed through those streets waving to all the towns’ people, greeting them all by name.  By the end of the trip the red Pontiac convertible sides were so dented in that we were barely able to open the doors. But no worries…my dad packed the red Pontiac convertible with us as we travelled back across the Atlantic to New York.  When we arrived home he went and bought himself another one!

    Traveling though Italy with my dad was such an experience.  People were drawn to him.  He had such a big personality.  So warm and gracious!  It was always such excitement when my dad went to visit his hometown. Everyone came over to greet him.  Our house was like a café.  We were always brewing espresso.  It got to be as soon as I saw a car coming I wouldn’t even wait for my Nonna to ask me to make coffee.  I immediately took out the moka pot and started the process.   I also set out the little crystal aperitif glasses for the vermouth.  Espresso, vermouth and limoncello were served!   Before they left my dad would always give the guests a big chunk of American milk chocolate as a souvenir from America. My dad loved American milk chocolate so much so that he wanted to share with his family and friends back in Italy.  As he does things so big he would order 40 pound slabs of milk chocolate from his favorite Italian bakery, Caffe Aurora, here in Poughkeepsie to bring back to Italy!  

   It was only one year that he brought over his red convertible I think he learned his lesson with the big American car because after that he would usually rent a FIAT 500! It was funny watching him load up his FIAT with watermelons because one thing about my father if he bought something for himself he always bought for his sisters too.  He made everyone smile and laugh when they saw him pull up with his little Fiat and pull out watermelon after watermelon!    The big smiles from everyone made my heart melt!  And he was so funny teasing the market people.  I love listening to his Montese sing song accent.   The dad that I loved was the dad I saw in Italy.  One summer he brought just my brother and me to visit Nonna in Italy.  As a treat he brought my brother and I to Capri.  It was so fun!  It was such a special trip!  But the best part was when we stopped for lunch at this rooftop restaurant overlooking the beautiful views of Capri.  The waiter gazing at my dad’s bigger than life personality along with his striking blue eyes (all the more impressive with his dark tan) asked if he was Raff Vallone. As I watched my dad’s already broad smile get bigger, Papa asked the waiter, “tell me more who this Raff Vallone is!” All impressed that he looked like a movie star who was known for his rugged good looks my father just beamed! And my brother and I just sat a little taller thinking how handsome our father really was that other people thought so too!”


Soft Shell Crabs

Soft Shell Crabs are available at your seafood market from April to September. It’s during this time that crabs molt their old exoskeletons.  These soft shell crabs are removed from the ocean as soon as they shed their shells to prevent hardening. The famous Maryland blue crabs that we are accustomed to hammering the outer shell and picking it apart to get to the delicious meat are now soft.  After removing the mouthparts, the gills and the abdomen, the whole crab is now edible, shell and all!  No work is involved in eating soft shell crabs! Soft shell crabs were a much anticipated menu item every spring at “the restaurant”!  We had people from all over come for our Soft Shell Crabs.   As you read on I will share all the secrets of cooking the soft shell crabs so you can make them just as good at home.  Typically Soft Shell Crabs are fried but at “the restaurant” sautéed was the most popular.  One of the ways we served them was in a Parisienne Sauce (please read recipe #11 blog post) for the home cook please understands that these crabs only survive a few days out of water.  So when picking out your soft shell crabs make sure they are fresh!  You can’t tell just by looking at them.

Secret #1   not only do you need to make sure they are plump don’t be embarrassed to give it the smell test too! They should smell clean and astringent!

Secret #2   refuse to have the fish monger clean the crabs for you or the crabs will lose all their liquid. Liquid is important so the crabs are very plump.  Wait until you are ready to cook the crabs to clean.  It’s easy to clean them!

Secret #3 I have given you step by step process for cleaning the crabs.  And showed you how to prepare then with an egg batter.  But you can also prepare them with just flour.  Putting a floured soft shell crab (no egg batter) in hot oil results in the plumpest crabs ever.

 

 Cleaning and preparing soft shell crabs for the Parisienne Sauce

 

  1. Flip the soft shell crab oversoft shell crab underneath

  1. Remove the stomach flap on the center back of the crabsoft shell crab stomach flap

  1. Underneath the flaps on the front of the crab are the lungs.soft shell crab flap for lungs

  1. Remove the lungssoft shel crab lung

  2. Remove the eyessoft shel crab eyes

  3. Remove the beard underneath the eyesspft shel crab beard

  1. Prepare batter for the egg battered soft shell crabs. Beat 3 eggs with a pinch of saltsoft shel crab prep

  2. Rinse soft shell crabs in water.

  3. Dredge in flour on both sides and underneath the flaps toosoft shell crab in flour

  4. Dip floured crabs into beaten eggs and coat well.soft shel crab in egge batter

  5. Heat a pan with oil until very hot.

  6. Place back of crab into the frying pansoft shel crab dredged

  1. Lower heat and fry 5-8 minutes on each side. There will be a lot of splatter so keep a splatter guard on pan.

  1. Drain the crabs on paper towels and now they are ready for the Parissiene sauce!

  2. Place soft shell crabs in the Parisienne sauceincludes soft shel crab parissienne 045

      16. Cook until sauce is thickened and serve!

Buon Appetito!

 

Parisienne Sauce

parisienne sauce caper picture

Parisienne Sauce was a very popular sauce in the restaurant. It’s a buttery lemony sauce enhanced with the salty tanginess of capers. Capers are the highlight of this sauce.  To understand capers one has to know capers.  I thought I would share a little story about my childhood and some facts about the tiny delicate caper that’s packed with a huge flavor punch. 

    These little pungent Mediteranean capers come from the bud of blossoming bushes.  I actually had the pleasure of seeing caper bushes.  It was many years ago when  my brother and I visited our grandparents at their home town on the island of Ischia, Italy.  They took us for a leisurely walk through town and we visited the Castello Aragonese, a medieval castle built on volcanic rock. As we walked up to the castle, clinging to the cracked walls and cliffs were these unusual and attractive ornamental shrubs.  They were thriving in the sunny hot dry climate of Ischia. The castle is nestled on volcanic rock in the middle of the sea. So these caper shrubs are evidently salt tolerant as well. My Nonno (grandfather) pointed out the capers on the shrubs. The bushy plant had a thick cluster of thorny branches and fleshy, egg shaped leaves. They were as high as five feet in some places, but most were sprawled out over rocks and soil.

     Nonno explained that from April to June, the caper shrub’s tiny buds flower into large, sweet-scented, pink blooms clustered with long, violet stamens. The plants harvested for capers, however, rarely blossom. Workers endure hot sun, sharp thorns and rugged terrain throughout the summer to pick the precious buds as they ripen.  

       I loved this walk up to the castle listening to Nonno explain all of this in his rich napolitano cadence! The long steep climb winding around the castle with the ocean views were breathe taking.  Nonno walked ahead explaining all the sites while my Nonna (grandmother) ambled behind slowly carrying her large purse under her arm.  My brother and I found our Italian grandparents amusing.  At one point we felt a sprinkling of rain as was common in the afternoons in Ischia, a sun shower.  Nonno slowed down and turned to ask my Nonna if she was ok.  In his tongue in cheek manner, he just shook his head as he watched Nonna dig into her large white purse and pull out a clear plastic rain bonnet for her head and a sweater for her shoulders.   My brother and I were hysterically laughing not just at my Nonna but at Nonno’s reaction.  What a special caper memory.  I think of them whenever I use capers in my cooking.

    Let me explain more about capers. Pickling process enhances the flavor of capers. Capers with their tart and briny flavors enrich sauces. Capers are a staple in the Italian kitchen. The tiny, piquant buds are enjoyed from region to region, from the north to the south.  In Sicily capers are served in caponata, a summer side dish in which their salty bite cuts through the smooth buttery taste of slow cooked eggplant.  In Ischia they are part of spaghetti alla puttanesca. The sauce consists of capers, tomatoes, olives and anchovies. These delicious little gems are often sprinkled over pizza, pasta, and fish dishes as a flavorful garnish.

     Most capers come from wild plants, thoughout Spain and Italy—the two largest producers—they are cultivated. Sicily and the Aeolian island of Salina produce the majority of Italy’s capers. The best, though, come from Pantelleria. On this tiny island, halfway to Tunisia, volcanic soil and the heat of an intense Mediterranean sun create ideal growing conditions. The berries are also picked, and both are pickled for use as a seasoning and garnish. The bud, or caper, is pickled in salt and vinegar brine, then sold in vinegar or packed in salt. The berry—the larger, plump, mature fruit of the plant—resembles a green grape with faint, white stripes and, like olives, is served in pastas, salads or even as a garnish in martinis. When choosing capers, look for dark green buds packed tightly in sea salt, because those submerged in vinegar lack the subtle, natural taste of the salted ones. The smaller buds have a more delicate flavor while the larger ones have less taste and could be frauds—sometimes the similar-looking buds of the nasturtium plant are passed off as capers. The French term nonpareil is commonly used to denote the smallest buds; surfines are the next largest. True Italian capers, though, are sorted by millimeter with mechanized screens. They range from 7 millimeters to 16 millimeters. Unfortunately in stores their size is not often marked.  Be sure to look for buds not larger than a raisin. If using salted capers, soak them for five to ten minutes and drain to remove excess salt. The large caper berries are eaten “as is” just as you would an olive.  You can even serve them in your favorite martini!

 


Parisienne Sauce

soft shell crabs Parisienne( Parisienne Sauce served using Soft Shell Crabs)

Ingredients:

     1 cup of chicken stock

    5 tablespoons of butter

    ¼ cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice ( Juice form 1 ½ lemons)

    1 teaspoon of drained capers (nonpareil packed in brine)

    3 dashes of Tabasco sauce

    3 ounces of sherry

   ½ teaspoon of salt

   Fresh ground pepper to taste

   2 sprigs of chopped Italian parsley

Procedure:

Add all ingredients in a large skillet.  Simmer on medium heat until reduced and slightly thickened.  It usually takes about 10 minutes. includes soft shel crab parissienne 045

This sauce is used on Chicken Scallopini, Veal Scallopini, Scallops, Shrimp, Filet of Sole or Soft Shell Crabs.

For this recipe I used the Parisienne Sauce with Soft Shell Crabs.  In my next post I will love to tell you all about Soft Shell Crabs…how to shop for them and how to cook them.

*Although the restaurant called this sauce Parisienne Sauce please don’t confuse it with the French version of Parisienne Sauce that uses cream and eggs.