Soft Shell Crabs vs. Hot Dogs

Soft Shell Crabs vs. Hot Dogs

— I was introduced to soft shell crabs by a Greek restaurateur. I’ve thanked him ever since.

Seafood lovers like me enjoy them all over Old Town and "eat the whole thing."

I bring all this up because of the birthday celebrations at this time of year. The birth of the nation and Alexandria’s anniversary last week was recognized with hot dog eating contests and despite the heat wave the backyard barbecues and steaks.

It was too hot outside for me so I remained in the cool air of the kitchen. No Nathan’s or Ball Park goodies for me.

When I moved to Alexandria five lustrums-plus ago I determined to take advantage of all the delicacies from the surrounding waters. I’ve given it a good try.

It’s not necessary to list the various styles of soft shells served in the city’s pleasurable dining institutions. Take a walk down King Street toward the Potomac River. Almost any place will do. Make your own choice. On occasion, with apologies to the city’s restaurateurs, there are some other fine establishments along the Chesapeake Bay, the Severn River.

Let me suggest not forgetting oysters from raw to steamed, on the half-shell in soups and stews along with French fries, the seasonings and iced tea too. Best in the world? Probably so but why rank such morsels or eateries? Just enjoy.

My idea of surf and turf, seafood with steak, is simple. Soft shell crabs, ignore the red meat and have another soft shell, with or without tartar sauce, shrimp, mussels.

There are many good ways to prepare soft shells. I start with making certain they’re cleaned and then marinate in milk for an hour. This creates a little plumpness. Then bake, deep fat fry or simply in a skillet.

This soft shell crab indulgence is an enabling tool. For a while it’s an absolution from the distractions of the day. Relief is at the ready as the soft shells are cooking. If you insist on using the backyard grill, the crustaceans acclimate well atop the charcoal.

Here’s a good way to prepare them:

After the milk marination carefully dip in a beaten egg and drag through a combination of half-cup corn meal and half-cup all-purpose flour. I include a generous portion of Old Bay seasoning. (Old Bay is also excellent for scrambled eggs and omelets or soft-boiled eggs.)

The moment of truth comes at this point. I’ve pre-heated the oven at 350°. On a cookie sheet place the soft shells usually an inch or so apart and bake for three or four minutes on each side.

These tasty morsels are good any meal of the day and any day of the year. Try them with your eggs, pancakes or waffles.

The only thing my teacher George Thanasoulis didn’t do well was brew coffee. I excuse him there. Coffee-making is my expertise. He taught me how to buy dozens in the summer, boil (blanch), wrap individually and freeze. Come the cold days of winter, these soft shells are ready.

What a joy for a seafood lover.

Happy birthday to us.