Sunday, August 15, 2010

Soft-Shelled Crabs Meuniere (Page 337)

RECIPE #1195

  • Date: Tuesday, August 3, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our New House!
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I went to Ann Arbor a few weeks ago to see my new tumor doctor. After my appointment I made a little stop at the fish market there. They had soft-shelled crabs, so I bought some and made this recipe as soon as I got home! The fishmonger was nice enough to clean the crabs for me (not such a fun job), and besides cleaning the crabs there wasn't much to this recipe. So this dish should have been a piece of cake. I started by soaking the crabs in a mixture of milk, kosher salt, and pepper. Then I dredged them in flour. I clarified some butter, then heated it in a skillet. I cooked the crabs in the clarified butter, turning once, until they were golden brown on both sides. Then I transferred the crabs to a plate. Up until that point, everything was going quite smoothly. All I had left to do was make a pan sauce from the clarified butter that the crabs had cooked in. I was a little distracted, as I was also making a pizza at the time, so I wasn't thinking clearly. The first step was to add a chunk of butter to the hot butter already in the pan. Typically when you have a pan of melted butter it isn't really that hot. If butter gets too hot it burns, so if it isn't burnt, it isn't so hot. Clarified butter, on the other hand, doesn't burn so easily because it is missing the milk solids which burn (that is the whole point of the clarifying). So, hypothetically, if you had a skillet of clarified butter which had been over high heat for 10 minutes, that butter would be really freakin' hot. And if you, hypothetically, tossed in a big chunk of cold butter nonchalantly, you might get splashed by insanely hot butter.

That's what I did, and that's what happened. In the moment when I realized I had been burned I thought, I have two choices. I could: A) Run my arm under cold water immediately to stop the burning, but in the process ruin my pan sauce because the un-clarified butter I just added would burn, or B) Finish the pan sauce and then worry about the horrible burning on my arm.

I chose B. It was a split-second decision and the rationale was something like: I can't remake this pan sauce because the flavor of it relies on the fact that the crabs were cooked in this butter. I can't cook the crabs a second time just to add flavor to a second sauce, and I don't have any more crabs. So I need to finish it. I also, at the time, didn't realize how badly I was burned. If I had been experiencing the horrible pain I experienced starting about ten minutes later, I might have chosen differently. The one upside of the situation was that the burn I got was pretty amazing. It looked just like a huge splash on my arm. I had burnt splotches from my wrist past my elbow in the beautiful pattern of a splash. It isn't nearly as spectacular now, since it has started to heal, and actually I miss it. I do not, however, miss the pain.

Anyway, so there I was, burnt and making my pan sauce. I cooked it until the butter was a golden brown then I (very carefully this time) added lemon juice and parsley. I seasoned the sauce and drizzled it over the crabs.

By the time I reached the dinner table I was hurting. I ate with my arm wrapped in cold wet washcloths. And I was irrationally angry at the crabs. Note, they gave their lives for this dish and they were dead long before I got burned. So really, I shouldn't have held it against them. But I was so riled up that I only ate a bite or two even though the crabs were delicious. Soft-shelled crab is an amazing thing. It's crazy that you can just eat the crab with the shell and all! It is usually such an ordeal to extract the meat from a crab, but with softshells you just take a fork and a knife and eat the whole thing! The simple preparation served the crab well. The pan sauce was tasty. Perhaps not worth the pain, but tasty. And it complemented the crabmeat nicely. I appreciated this dish without eating much of it, and my special gentleman happily ate two servings.

The recipe is here.


GilaB said...

They are your battle wounds, honorably received in the course of your quest!

Teena said...

Haha! Yeah, it did feel like a bit of a battle wound!