It’s time for another edition of the DC Omnivore 100, where we explore the top one hundred foods every good omnivore should try at least once in their lives…
“Blue Crab Molting Season.” Could there be a sweeter phrase to the foodie ears of our region? Really, it’s one of the best parts of living near the Chesapeake Bay. And for those of us who can’t be bothered with the hacking and slashing to get to the meat out of the crab while in its hard shell, it’s especially sweet.
It seems every restaurant currently has a soft shell crab special on the menu, and that’s no coincedence. From roughly May through June, our local blue crabs are casting aside their old shells, like giggling girls getting beach-ready. It takes about four days for their new shells to harden, so before they become bitter and jaded (ok, I know I’m milking a bad metaphor, I just can’t resist, it’s like a disease) snap them up.
A perfect soft shell crab dish has that signature play with texture – the crisp shell giving way to succulent crabmeat with a little burst of the sea. But I know this particular texture is not initially to everyone’s liking. My gateway dish was soft shell crab roll, often called “Spider” roll. Tempura battered and surrounded by seaweed and rice, it’s a safe bet for those a little squeamish about chowing down on claws. However, most sushi places feature the roll year-round, so I don’t consider it to be the best way to enjoy it as a seasonal delicacy.
My favorite way? It’s a toss-up, so hard to choose! On the one hand I love them just sauteed, no batter. The nascent shell is crisp enough. Usually this kind of preparation is more easily found in Thai restaurants. I love Haad Thai’s version with red curry.
On the other hand, there’s nothing like gilding the lily and having soft shell crab lightly fried in a cornmeal batter. The trick is to exercise restraint with the batter and not drown them in it – you want just a delicate summer slicker, not a heavy wool coat. (I warned you about my metaphor disease). Proof has a tasty version with an amazing chili aioli sauce (though they are using Carolina crabs…) and Siroc is seving a special as well.
Of course sometimes the best option is the simplest – you can get soft shell crabs at the Maine Avenue Fish Market and rustle them up yourself. Though then you have to contend with cooking them alive, so be prepared for some squirming! Can’t bear that thought? You can always get them cooked up at the market and enjoy on a roll with some fries. Pure decadence.