In case you haven’t already heard this proud aunt gushing (in blogposts, on Facebook), my nephew “Wiggy” (a.k.a. William Kirk) is a chef. At age 23 and just two years out of culinary school, he’s an extremely talented, creative, dare I say amazing chef. I used to fancy myself as sort of knowing my way around the kitchen, and pride myself on not needing a recipe to turn out a decent meal. But then suddenly, my no longer “little” nephew graduated from culinary school and I gained a whole new appreciation for intuitive cooking and the genetic transition of creativity…(my late, beloved “Uncle Jim” comes to mind). This post is just one example of the creations Wiggy whips up – seemingly, in minutes and out of thin air. Truly chef-magic which I’ll attempt to demystify so we lowly cooks might imitate the genius. Softshell Crabs in Marinade
Softshell Crab Season: late April to mid-late July – The only time softshell crab has ever passed my lips is when it’s been well-disguised within a maki sushi Spider Roll. So when Wiggy mentioned that he was making “Grilled Softshell Crab on Greens” I thought “Wow. Now that’s something I’ve never thought of and probably never would.” For as many times as I enjoyed eating Blue Crabs from the Chesapeake Bay, I never really thought about the fact that all those Large and Extra Large Crabs I “picked” (read: devoured) during my years living in DC and spent in Annapolis, were the result of several molts.According to Wig, shellfish should be purchased live whenever possible to ensure optimum freshness. After he did just that at the local farmer’s market for an admittedly relatively pricey $6 each, he marinated them for approximately two hours in a marinade he created, of course, sans recipe. There is a whole tutorial on cleaning softshell crabs, but I suggest you do as I’d do and as Wiggy did, and have the fish monger do it. The vegetable garden’s earliest bounty.
Garden Fresh Lettuce – Late spring/early summer is also a great time of year to enjoy the tender, deliciousness of homegrown lettuce. Home grown lettuce is also superior in terms of taste and nutrition, boasting a higher Vitamin A content than varieties purchased in the supermarket. Fresh Herbs – One of my favorite things about spring, summer and early fall cooking is plucking fresh herbs right out of the herb garden. Wig used fresh basil, thyme, parsley and oregano in the marinade because that’s how he rolls…but you can use all, none or any combination. He also used cilantro because…”Why not? It was in the fridge.” 🙂Fresh avocado adds a creaminess and balances the heat from the garlic and siracha in the marinade.Fresh, ripe, sweet mango also helps to balance the heat. After the crabs marinate for at least one, preferably two hours place shell side down on a medium-hot grill. This longer than usual for seafood marinating time is important to allow the flavors to permeate the shells. When heated, the crab shell will lose its opaque/blue color and turn a pink-ish brown.The Salad – At approximately 1.5 crabs per person, this is definitely a “light meal.” Blue or Softshell crabmeat is only 112 calories per cup, so the addition of white beans to the salad provides a bit more protein and some high fiber carbs which also increases the satiety factor.
When a dish is particularly flavorful, my dad has a saying that the rest of my family has adopted and is apropos for this Grilled Softshell Crab Salad: “Man, there are a lot of flavors running around!” That’s definitely the case in this dish. Between the spicy siracha and garlic, the sweetness from mango, the umami from well, umami paste and the grill-flavor from the crispy crab shell, the flavors work so well together and there’s nothing not to love.How do YOU love your softshell crabs? Let me know in the comments below!
- 5 - 6 fresh softshell crabs, cleaned
- 6 cups red or green leaf lettuce
- 2 cups baby arugula
- 1 medium avocado, chopped
- 1/2 medium-large fresh, ripe mango, cubed
- 3/4 white beans, rinsed and drained
- 1-2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 T. fresh ginger, minced
- 1 T. Umami paste
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 T. Siracha
- 2 t. sesame oil
- 2 T. brown sugar
- 1 cup cilantro, chopped
- 1/4 cup "good" olive oil
- 3 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice
- 2 T. low sodium soy sauce
- 1 T. Umami paste
- Optional: fresh basil, parsley, thyme, oregano - any one or combination, to total about 1/2 cup
- Prepare marinade by whisking all marinade ingredients together. Reserve 1/4 cup of marinade and set aside.
- Marinate crab in a shallow dish in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
- Place all salad dressing ingredients in a mini-food processor or blender and process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and using a spoon, gently stir the white beans into salad dressing, set aside.
- Place crabs, softshell side down on a preheated medium-hot grill. Close grill cover and do not touch crabs for about 3-4 minutes.
- Gently flip crabs to the reverse side. Crabs should be losing their opaque color and turning pinkish-brown (a.k.a orange). Close grill cover and continue to cook for 3-4 more minutes. Total crab cooking time should be about 7-9 minutes. Do not overcook.
- Remove crabs from grill and allow to rest on a cutting board.
- In a large bowl, add lettuce, avocado and mango and toss gently. Using a slotted spoon, add white beans to the salad...allowing extra dressing from spoon to drip into bowl greens, but avoid "over-dressing." Gently toss again. Cover remaining salad dressing, refrigerate, and use in a future salad.
- Divide salad into 4 serving bowls or plates.
- Using a sharp knife (and, all your knives should be sharp 😉 Cut crabs into 4 - 5 pieces or "chunks" and divide crab pieces evenly among the plated salad.
- Drizzle 1 tablespoon of reserved marinade over each dish.
- Serve immediately.