I was living in Florida a few years ago, feeling a little homesick for Maryland when Bon Appétit magazine landed in my mailbox with a feature on soft-shell crabs, including a recipe by Baltimore chef Cindy Wolf. Oh, happy day—a piece of home.
Not only did it give me a boost, but the recipe has turned out to be one of my favorites. Now, back in the Land of Pleasant Living, I look forward to our soft-shell season from late May through September when I can savor the bounty of the season with this easy preparation.
Wolf, whose fancy fare at Charleston is well-known, is a great fan of the soft-shell crab. "We love it," she says. "It's kind of crazy. You eat the entire thing."
This recipe works because of its simplicity, she says. "It's the execution. The breading is light. You fry it quickly. The lemon brown butter sauce makes it."
Cornmeal-Crusted Soft-Shell Crabs with Lemon Brown Butter
1 cup buttermilk
4 fresh soft-shell crabs
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
peanut oil (for frying)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 large bunch watercress, thick stems trimmed
1 English hothouse cucumber, peeled, seeded, cut into 2-by-1/4-inch strips (about 2 cups)
Clean crabs, or ask your fishmonger to do it. Pour buttermilk into a 13-by-9-by-2-inch glass baking dish. Add crabs to buttermilk; turn to coat. Let soak in refrigerator one hour,
Whisk cornmeal, flour, salt, and cayenne in medium bowl. Drain crabs; add to cornmeal mixture and turn to coat both sides generously.
Pour enough peanut oil into heavy large skillet to reach depth of two inches; heat oil to 360 degrees.
Meanwhile, melt butter in small skillet over medium heat. Cook until golden brown, stirring occasionally, about four minutes. Stir in lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat; cover to keep warm.
Working in two batches, add crabs to hot oil and cook until cornmeal coating is golden and crabs are cooked through, about 21/2 minutes per side. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
Toss watercress and cucumber in large bowl; sprinkle with salt. Divide among four plates. Top each serving with one crab. Drizzle with brown butter. Makes four first-course servings.