Signs of spring: fresh soft shell crab and green garlic from the Farmer's Market.
Yes, spring is here. The herb and vegetable garden is ready for ex-pat transplants: Black Russian tomatoes, French tarragon, Mexican poblano chiles.
And sometimes, a purely local meal comes together in a most unusual fashion.
Lettuces from the Carrboro Farmer's Market: (clockwise from top right) Eruption
Red Romaine, McAdams Farm; Out-Red-Geous Romaine, Ayrshire Farm; Ferrari Red
Red Oakleaf and Galisse Green Oakleaf, McAdams Farm.
Yesterday I rose at dawn, gulped some green tea, and went to the farmers market. Around here, lettuce is having a moment. At McAdams Farm, luxuriant heads were almost exploding with ruffles and frills in shades of black plum, burgundy and lime. Even the names are volcanic: Ferrari Red Oakleaf, Eruption Red Romaine. Somehow I came home with five heads, enough for a week of salads.
But meandering among the early strawberries and purple irises, I did a double take. Leeks? No. Green garlic. Pulled from the earth when the long flat leaves are still supple and the bulb hasn’t yet separated into cloves, this springtime delicacy has a mild oniony flavor that becomes sweeter when cooked. Peregrine Farm seemed to be operating a veritable nursery for green garlic—there were wispy baby stalks like scallions gone long, toddler stalks showing sturdier growth, and a gang of adolescents that were almost as big as leeks. I scooped up some of each.
Then, on the way home, I stopped at Tom Robinson’s. This dilapidated cinderblock shack on Roberson Street is the place to go for fresh North Carolina seafood: Every Thursday, Tom checks out the local catch at the coast and hauls it back to sell through the weekend.. At 8:47 AM a young couple was spending their last $21 on a hunk of red snapper and a dozen big scallops. But the soft shell crabs, plump and wriggly when lifted from their wooden box, were the prize that caught my eye.
I bought a pair and went home.
Now when you have live soft shell crabs, there is only one thing to do: Eat them immediately. And so we did, for breakfast, with sautéed green garlic and a Japanese-style dipping sauce of soy, lemon and mirin. The crab was crisp on the outside, sea-sweet and succulent on the inside, and the greens added a soft garlicky bite.
A drizzle of soy and lemon was all it took to reach morning bliss.
The green garlic and the soft shell crabs, au naturel. Green garlic may resemble
small leeks before the bulb matures and separates into cloves.
You really don’t need a recipe for any of this, but here it is:
Sizzled Soft Shell Crabs with Green Garlic and Lemon-Soy Dipping Sauce
To serve two:
1-1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon mirin or rice wine
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons seafood or chicken broth
1 large stalk green garlic, about the size of a leek
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 large live soft shell crabs
¼ cup flour
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup canola oil
1. Make the dipping sauce by combining the lemon juice, soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar and broth. Set aside.
2. Trim the roots of the green garlic and remove the tough outer leaves. Slice the garlic into thin rounds. If there is any grit, swish the garlic pieces in a bowl of cold water. Scoop out, drain and pat dry.
3. Heat the tablespoon of canola oil in a skillet over medium heat. Toss in the green garlic and sautee until soft and just barely golden. If the garlic is browning too fast, reduce the heat. When the garlic is cooked, take the pan off the flame and remove to a cold burner while you cook the crab.
4. Clean the crabs: Using kitchen shears, remove the crab’s face by snipping about ¼ of an inch behind the eyes. Press down on the shell to squeeze out the greenish matter located behind the eyes. ( The worst is over.) Lift up the edges of the shell on each side and pull out the spongy gills. Flip the crab over and pull the down the triangular flap or “apron” at the bottom of the shell, and remove. Rinse in cold water and pat dry.
5. In a cast iron frying pan, heat the ¼ cup of canola oil over a medium flame. Combine flour, salt and pepper and lightly dust each crab with the mixture. When the oil is hot, place the crabs in the pan, right side up and sizzle for 3 to 4 minutes. Turn the crab and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes. The crab should be crisp and golden brown—lower the heat if it seems to be cooking too fast.
6. Drain the crabs on paper towels and serve at once with a large spoonful of sautéed green garlic and a small bowl of the dipping sauce.