Saturday in Los Angeles was one of those perfect, sunny Southern California days, and so when my friends Jash and Sly informed me that they were heading off to Silver Lake for the farmer’s market, I was more than happy to tag along for fun. You see, I’m notoriously ineffective at farmer’s markets. I tend to get overwhelmed with choices, eventually leading to a general central nervous system breakdown that leaves me confused, clammy, and just a tad sleepy. My biggest problem is that I’m a recipe guy. I have little to no cooking sense, and therefore I rely almost exclusively on other people’s directions. That’s why when I wander into a veritable bazaar of fresh produce such as the farmer’s market, I rarely know what the hell to get. Sure, there are some no-brainers â€”Â corn on the cob is always welcomed. But do I need tomatoes? Or cucumbers? Or any number of the strange items being hawked by the farmers of California? I just don’t know.
This trip to the farmer’s market, however, proved to be surprisingly bountiful and inspriational. Not only did I come across a neat variety of herbs (which I eventually bought and planted â€”Â more on that later), but I stumbled upon the one thing I had been craving for about two months now: SOFT SHELL CRABS. Yes, those elusive yet delicious crustaceans are a true favorite of mine, and given that they’re highly seasonal and rarely found here in Los Angeles, this turn of events elicited major, major excitement from me. I immediately called over Sly and Jash to show them my discovery, and they too became quite excited. I opted to buy two of the little, freshly-molted guys; Sly went for one; and Jash, who appreciated the situation, decided to sit this crabfest out.
And so we set a plan in motion: we would repair back to my abode and cook up the crabs for what would surely be a lunch to remember. Pictures â€”Â including some slightly graphic crab decapitation shots â€”Â after the jump…
So after all my talk about always needing a recipe, I decided to wing it by sautÃ©ing the crabs with white wine, garlic, parsley, and shallots. To quote Ina Garten, who also inspired this very ProvenÃ§al preparation, “How bad can THAT be?”
Luckily, if my winging it happened to veer off course, I had the helpful presence of jash and Sly on hand to offer advice. Here’s a shot of me chopping shallots. Sly, it should be noted, was on camera duty.
After having prepped the garlic, parsley, and shallots, I put out a plate of flour for dredging. The mis-en-place is ready.
I begin untying the first bag o’ crab. I should note that this was the first time I had ever cooked soft shell crabs. I think the same went for Sly and jash.
Behold, the first victim.
Me and my new friend.
There was much debate about what to name the crabs. We initially went the intellectual route and labeled them Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates. But then Sly later found roe in her crab and renamed it Esther, which hardly seemed in keeping with the classical theme we had going on. Given that the whole Greek thing had now been ruined, I then renamed one of my crabs Joanne, and the other one… well, it never received an official name. Jash wanted Julio (OR Ricardo MontalbÃ¡n), Sly envisioned Maurice, and I was partial to Rolando.
Meet Rolando. He has a cute, crabby face and all…
BUT IT GOTS TO GO!
As per the rules of Crab Cleaning 101, I had to cut off Rolando’s eyeballs and mouth.
I lift a flap of Rolando’s decidedly soft shell and reveal the gills. They will be removed.
Sly, meanwhile, hones her inner chiropodist-meets-Anne-Geddes and takes many photos of our feet.
Patting Rolando dry for an optimal dredging experience.
Now it’s time for Esther to face the music.
Snip snip. What this photo doesn’t show is that I accidentally cut right INTO her eyeball, causing it to squeeze outward and send Sly into a series of horrified giggles.
A necessary step in the cleaning process: peeling back the “apron” and cutting it off.
I then ready Esther’s gills for removal.
And last but not least, we have Joanne.
A regular Marie Antoinette, this one.
Side note: DAMMIT! We totally should have named them Anne (Boleyn), Marie, and Robespierre!
All cleaned and prepped, the crabs are ready to go. I like to think of them here as being in an invisible canoe.
The dredging commences. Joanne appears resistant to the idea. But don’t worry: she’s dead. Bitch gonna take it!
Further dredging excitement.
One last crab to flour up.
How humiliating for them.
Time to heat up the olive oil!
Before going into the hot oil, I season the crabs with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, we decide to cook the sauce first. We dump the garlic, parsley, and shallots into the pan and sautÃ© away.
You pretty much can’t go wrong with this combo.
More salt for the sauce. Note the new salt jar from Ikea. $2.99.
Once the herbs have cooked for a bit, I pour in my finest Charles Shaw wine.
I also add some flour and a touch of Earth Balance to thicken it all up. We then reserve the sauce in another pan.
Sly again fixates on her feet. This angle does her dress no favors.
In go the crabs.
I believe the word Rolando is looking for is “BAAAAAAAHHHHARRGH!!!!”
Soon Joanne and Esther meet a similar fate.
Arranging the crabs in the pan.
Cooking away in olive oil. According to Emeril, we need to sautÃ© for about two minutes on each side.
I flip the first one after two minutes. Turns out it was a tad premature. Probably could have used another forty-five seconds to a minute. Oh well.
And now they’re all flipped.
After two more minutes, I remove the crabs to the other pan.
I then deglaze with more wine â€”Â Jash’s brilliant suggestion. It was really a team effort.
Everything then goes back into the original, deglazed pan for another thirty seconds or so.
Sly’s lens again gravitates towards the floor, this time seeking out Jash’s feet.
Meanwhile, here’s a small ciabatta loaf from Fresh & Easy. I cut it in half and stick it in the toaster.
The crabs are at last ready to plate. Here is Esther looking like she just fell from a ten story building.
Sly, who’s cropped out, and I prepare to dig in. It should be noted that the bread was rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil, courtesy of Jash. Everything smelled out of control amazing.
I got crab fever!
About to take the plunge.
Sly has taken her first bite. You can just barely see her moaning with ecstasy.
I go in for my first taste.
It’s seriously, seriously delicious.
Nom nom nom…
The Verdict: Totally awesome. An instant highlight of the entire weekend. The only thing I would have changed would have been to cook the crabs a little longer on each side (thanks EMERIL) to crisp them up just a tad more. But in a sense, it really didn’t matter. The crabs were still delicious, filled with a salty, tangy punch that kept us going back for more. I alternated between eating the crab solo and placing gobs of it on the bread. Both methods were fantastic. I’m drooling just thinking about it now.
At $5 a pop, soft shell crabs aren’t the cheapest of Poseidon’s offerings, but they’re certainly some of the best. If you can find them, I highly suggest making a batch. Here’s a handy guide to cleaning them.