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.
See our Soft Shell Crabs Parisienne Style recipe.
See our recipe for Parisienne Sauce.
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