The soft-shell crabs got me again this year! They are my favorite, and I look forward to them each year in such a way that I can tell you exactly what I was doing last year the first time I ate them for the season.
Soft-shell crabs are generally in season from about late-April through July; just in time to signify the beginning of good weather days--of warm outdoor meals and sunny afternoon walks. It's glasses of cold white wine, sweet berries, and long, lazy evenings spent sitting outdoors until long after the sun goes down.
I squealed when I saw them in stock at the store, excitedly messaging Eugene to tell him the good news. I immediately bought four, visions of overflowing soft-shell crab BLT sandwiches floating in my head.
I love being surprised by seasonal food. I love that feeling of walking into a market or opening up a restaurant menu and suddenly seeing that dish or ingredient that I love but haven't been able to eat all year. It's one of the best things about eating seasonally--that sense of real joy and appreciation that we completely miss by forcing food to conform to our whims and cravings, rather than the seasons laid out by God and nature.
I was explaining this to a friend recently and I compared the excitement to the one we feel in the beginning of Spring or near the end of Summer in the parts of the world where the seasons change; where you can feel the bright heat of summer and the biting cold of winter. As harsh and difficult as it can be to deal with the changes, I welcome them. After a long hot summer, I look forward to pulling out the thick sweater dresses and tall boots. And in the spring, I anxiously await the moment when I can run outside in little more than a pair of flip-flops and a breezy dress.
We may have found a way to control our food by flying and trucking it in from far away, but the weather is something that we have little dominion over--even in the more temperate of climates. We can predict it, but we can't change it or mold it. We can't package sunshine and ship it across state lines. We can't bottle up rain clouds and sell them to a country in need of rain. And we can't, no matter how often we may joke about it, bring good weather back with us as a vacation souvenir.
But I like that. I like that there are some things we're forced to recognize are out of our control. That no matter how hard we try, we're ultimately not the boss of this Earth, but rather the other way around.
I like to pan-fry my soft-shell crabs. A quick drench in buttermilk and semolina flour then fried to a crisp in a bit of olive oil and bacon fat is the perfect way to bring out the natural flavors and textures. They're wonderful this way on their own with little more than a squeeze of lemon, but I also love to layer them into a sandwich using the best of everything--freshly baked ciabatta sandwich rolls spread generously with mayonnaise, thick slices of crispy Black Forest bacon, a few sliced tomatoes, and (the surprise) big pieces of leafy kale.
I really recommend replacing lettuce with fresh kale in your sandwiches. Kale--hearty and packed with nutrients--works beautifully in sandwiches. It holds up well, looks gorgeous, and adds great texture and flavor. It's inexpensive too, and will keep much longer in the fridge than regular lettuce. Try it on your next sandwich or burger, and let me know what you think!
I served this sandwich for lunch last weekend, along with a basket of homemade tortilla chips and a bottle of chilled Vinho Verde. The entire meal (chips included) took about 40 minutes to put together and cost around $20 for the two of us, wine included. (And we never even had to change out of our pajamas!)
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Semolina-Crusted Soft-Shell Crab BKT Sandwiches
Fresh raw kale leaves replace the traditional lettuce in this variation of a BLT
4 soft-shell crabs, cleaned
8 strips of thick-cut bacon
2 cups buttermilk
2 teaspoons black pepper, divided
2 teaspoons Kosher salt, divided
2 cups semolina flour (can replace with cornmeal or regular all-purpose)
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 sandwich rolls, sliced in half (use a hearty roll such as ciabatta)
4 leaves of kale, rinsed and patted dry
1 large tomato, sliced thinly
Rinse the the cleaned soft-shell crabs and pat dry (Note: cleaning will typically be done by the fish monger upon purchase--it entails cutting off the "face" portion of the crab, among other things.).
Cook the bacon in a large skillet until crisp and remove to a towel-lined plate to drain, leaving the bacon fat in the skillet.
Combine the buttermilk, pepper, and salt in a shallow bowl. Pour the flour into a separate shallow bowl and season with the other teaspoon each of black pepper and salt. Whisk to combine. Dip each crab into the buttermilk and coat completely, then dredge in the flour mixture until full coated. Tap off the excess flour and set on a tray while you repeat with the rest of the crabs.
Add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet with the bacon fat and heat over medium high heat. When hot, cook the crabs, two at a time about 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown and crisp. (Watch out because the crabs may spit once in the hot oil.) Let the cooked crabs drain on a towel-lined plate.
Spread mayonnaise to taste on one side of the split ciabatta loaves. Top each sandwich with one slice kale, one crab, two slices of bacon, and the tomatoes. Top with other half of roll and serve immediately.