Saturday, May 22, 2010

soft shells

Mid-May on Chesapeake Bay means soft shell blue crabs, one of my favorite times of the year.

I headed out to my local seafood wholesaler this morning to get a dozen soft shells for the annual family dinner - it is kind of like a holiday for us. Sad to say when I got to the marina the shop was closed up, the shedding tanks were dry and stacked off to the side. Normally the tanks would be full of water pumped out of the nearby river, filled with "peeler" crabs about to shed their hard shells. Workers would watch the tanks around the clock, pulling out the crabs as soon as they shed their shells, putting the soft shell crabs on ice. I've bought my soft shells at this place, located next to a seafood restaurant on a little basin off the Lynnhaven River, for years. For $25 you could pick your dozen crabs right out the shedding tanks. I don't remember any cash register, receipts or sales tax. Cash and carry. That was a pretty good deal, $25 for a dozen when they were selling at the local market for $7 each. But for whatever reason they were not running a shedding operation this year.
So I headed to another longtime seafood shop nearby, only to find a brand new drugstore in its place. Finally I found this year's supply of soft shells at the local grocery store seafood counter. They were "whales", the large sized soft shells, for $4.00 each. (There are five sizes of soft shells - from largest to smallest they are whales, jumbos, primes, hotels and mediums. Crabs from 4 to 4 and 1/2 inches from point to point are the most popular with the tourists, hence the name "hotels." Locals prefer the jumbos or whales. I'll take any size I can get.)

I'll cook up our crabs tomorrow with a recipe I found a few years ago in Bon Appetit for Corn Meal Crusted Soft Shells (above). My presentation certainly won't be as nice, but I think they'll taste pretty good. We'll serve it with rice, a black bean/roasted corn salsa and a nice chardonnay. I think we'll do ok.

Speaking of local seafood, here is the new logo for the seafood marketing group in the Outer Banks. Pretty nice. They are pushing locally caught seafood, supporting your local fishermen. I'll buy local any chance I can. Here is a story about the campaign on The Island Free Press, the very nice online newspaper for Hatteras Island.

I don't know about sailing tomorrow, forecast right now is for 70% chance of thunderstorms. I'll just have to wait and see what it is like when I get up in the morning.



Anonymous said...

I love crab! Around here, we put crab in our "gravy", which is what the rest of the world calls "spaghetti sauce". We simmer it all day long, and when it's done, it's like it came right from heaven. If you want the recipe, let me know.

Baydog said...

Steve: My family and I often vacation on the Outer Banks. As you can imagine, we always eat in, and are usually interested in fish of one kind or another. Although we know where to get it, it seems to me that on a strip of land so long as the Outer Banks, surrounded by water, there should be an un-ending supply of fishmarkets, offering amazing displays of local seafood. The sportfishermen have the greatest resource down there, and it's about time that the visitors have that same bounty from which to choose. A few more weeks and we hope to take advantage of this new alliance. Thanks for the heads up. Now maybe we won't buy so much in Machipongo, Va. on the way down the DelMarVa hoping there will be more available when we get there!

Steve said...

yes, I would like the recipe. I"ve never had anything like that, it sounds great. Thanks.

I know the spot it Machipongo that you are talking about, you can't go wrong getting seafood there. I consider that "local", you're buying from the source, not a distant wholesaler. I'm a big fan of the Eastern Shore. Ever eat at Stingrays (called Chez Exxon by the locals), great seafood there right off the boats. "Dry" scallops and great crabcakes.
If you are down near Hatteras Village or Buxton check out Risky Business Seafood. In Ocracoke try to track down the guys from Fat Boys Fish Company (last time I saw them they were selling from a truck near Albert Styron's Market). Plus there is (or was, I hope it is still going) the fisherman's co-op right on Silver Lake.
Back to the eastern shore, if you like oysters drop by Terry Brothers in Willis Wharf - they get there oysters just inside the barrier islands where the ocean waters come in with the tide. Their oysters are salty and sweet.
Man, I just had dinner but I'm getting hungry again already.


Baydog said...

Steve: That happens to me every day. No sooner do I finish eating, I'm hungry again with so little as a mention of food.

We stay in the northern Outer Banks, away from the commercial end of fishing down there, and that's probably why we have less access to a wider variety of product.

The Machipongo Clam Shack rules. We usually get 2 dozen steamed crabs to have the night we arrive, along with 50 cherrystones to make casino the next day. We may also get some shrimp to steam with pickling spice, and a dozen oysters shucked so my wife can feed them to me one at a time while I drive. It's all good

Steve said...

GREAT plan for the clam shack. Love those cherrystone clams. I'm thinking of steaming some up over the holiday weekend.
I'm not up on the upper Outer Banks, my experience is more starting at Kitty Hawk and heading south, but really even more towards Hatteras and Ocracoke.
But I know you'll have a great time and will certainly eat well.

Baydog said...

We will keep you "posted".