It’s the Time Of The Season for…

May 11, 2010

Soft Shells!

Ah, the delicate crunch of the crustacean I crave year round! Many you have noticed restaurants touting the return of Soft Shell Crabs and have asked, “Didn’t we have them last month?’ Sure you did. Frozen.  Mid-May is the time when Blue Crabs molt and the new softer shell is ripe for chewing and hence like the banners that celebrate the new Beaujolais,  storefronts everywhere entice us to move inside and order up a pair!

One of my Mom’s favorite foods are these delightful delicacies and I thought no better a choice to commemorate Mother’s Day than a a dinner of soft shell crabs.  My younger brother is also a chef and got his hands on some beauties but since he was chained to the stove serving up the most dreaded meal of the year (Mother’s Day brunch) I said I’d prepare the meal myself.

I stood in front of the pantry trying to work up and menu with what Mom had on had, still working  with SNAP frugality on the brain.  I had wanted to use my stash of Thai ingredients to recreate one of  my favorite dishes from Nusara in Queens.  Barely dusted and fried, the blue crabs are smothered by a mountain of toothsome shredded green mango tossed with amethyst slivers of onion, frayed strips of kafir leaf, searing  bird’s eye chilies, toasted cashews and slicked with  sugary fresh lime juice.  As much as it moved me, the day was about M-O-M and these are not the colors of her palate, a lesson i have learned over time it is important to remember. Even though i relish subtly challenging people to try new foods fearlessly, an honorary meal is not the best venue to do so as it removes the spotlight. This in mind I pulled the sack of rice up returned the package of soba noodles to the shelf.  The bright sunlight bounding into the kitchen was deceptive and the perennials my siblings and me had bought to plant were lolling indoors as the temperature had dropped overnight leaving a frosting shimmering on the yard. Already Mom had dropped some hints about gathering around the hearth rather than the deck for a cocktail before we ate,  so I decided to whip up a risotto with the fresh fava beans at my brother’s store to impart some heft to the meal; I still had a nice wedge of aged Grana Padano and a bunch of parsley and decent pinot grigio and homemade chicken stock.  The

question was though, what about those damned crabs?  Best to go classic and therefore I floured them lightly and sauteed them in lemon brown butter finished with thyme and capers. A simple salad of (true) spring mix from Maple Bank Farm rounded out the meal quite nicely.

Springtime For Soft Shells on Fava Beans

Fava Bean Risotto

2 # fresh shelled fava beans
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 spanish onion, diced

1/2 bunch parsley, chopped
2 cups rice*
2 cups chicken stock
1 bottle pinot grigio
1 cup grated Parmesan

*I was in a bit of a panic about using plain old long grain rice to bang out a risotto (ask my friends- i was furiously txting people in my usual “the oil is already in the pan, but can i DO this” manner) and i must say it turned out just fine. Remember to stir like crazy and keep adding liquid.  Shorter grain is better, brown rice will be heartier just

don’t use instant rice or you’ll have a mealy mess on your hands.

Blanche and shock your fava beans in salted water. In a food processor, puree the beans and parsley ( i don’t dry the beans as it makes this an easier step) and set aside.
On medium, heat oil, just enough to cover the bottom (i use extra virgin olive oil for a more intense flavor but

canola or veg is ok also) til slightly smoking and sweat your garlic & shallots followed by the onion. Toss in the rice and let the stirring commence! Toast the rice until translucent (or golden for a heartier flavor) and slowly start adding your wine. This dish takes alot of liquid and requires attention, unlike paella you don’t want crispy rice on

the bottom of you pot here. Add a cup at a time and keep circulating the contents. You can also alternate the chix stock to round out the flavor but starting with the wine will help to burn off the “hot” alcohol flavor from the tip of your tongue. After about 30 minutes the liquids should have absorbed nicely and you can fold in the bean puree and cheese. Season and serve!


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