You cannot teach a crab to walk straight.
~Aristophanes

Another crustacean deity.

True crabs are decapod crustaceans of the order Brachyura. Ranging in girth from a few millimeters wide to spans over 12 feet, crabs are generally covered with a hard exoskeleton, and display a single pair of chelae (claws), dactyls (movable fingers) and four other pairs of legs. If a predator grabs a leg, crabs simply shed it only to rejuvenate the limb later. They are found in all of the world’s oceans, although many species live terrestially and/or inhabit fresh waters.

Sexually dimorphised, males have larger claws and a narrow, triangular abdomen, while females have a broader, rounded abdomen which is naturally contoured for brooding fertilized eggs. Due to joint structure, crabs typically have a sidelong gait yet they can burrow and swim.

Despite a reputation for culinary purity, crabs are scavenging omnivores, grazing on algae, mollusks, worms, fellow crustaceans, fungi, bacteria, and decaying organic matter. Aimless, promiscuous bottom feeders. In spite of or perhaps by reason of their diet, crabs are ambrosial on the back end.

A gastronomic and not a biological phrase, soft shell crabs are simply those critters which have recently molted their old undersized exoskeleton (carapace) and are still soft, succulent yet slightly crispy in texture. Maryland Blue crabs molt between mid-May and late September, and the new shell is exquisitely tender. The crabs fast several days before molting, so their systems are relatively purified when retrieved. Remember: the season is quite short.

Soft shell crabs should be bought live and should be cooked the day they are purchased. Have your fishmonger clean them, but do not have him hack off their legs.

By the way, do eat the whole enchilada…barefoot (or more), with bare fingers and une flûte de champagne in the other hand, while your eyes roll back into your head.

SAUTEED SOFT SHELL CRABS

Soft shell crabs, cleaned and patted dry
Buttermilk and/or whole milk

Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Quatre épices* or ras al hanout (August 11, 2009 post)
All purpose flour

1 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T unsalted butter
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and lightly smashed

In a large shallow glass or ceramic baking dish, cover the crabs with buttermilk or whole milk and refrigerate for an hour or so.

Season the soft shell crabs with salt, pepper, and a very light sprinkling of quatre épices or ras al hanout on one side only. Please do not overseason these delicate creatures. On a platter, dredge the crabs in flour, shaking off the excess.

In a large skillet, heat the oil, butter and garlic until shimmering and bubbling but not browned. Lay in the crabs, undersides up and sauté over moderately high heat, turning once, until crisp and cooked through, about 6 minutes total. Remove and serve immediately with an aioli, rouille, saffron mayonnaise, salsa verde or rémoulade.

Quatre Epices
1 T allspice berries
1 T whole cloves
1 T nutmeg, freshly grated
1 T ground cinnamon

Grate the nutmeg. In a coffee mill or spice grinder, grind the allspice and cloves. Combine all of the spices in a bowl, stirring to mix.

Pourboire: So many options here. For instance, season crabs with salt, pepper and any spices to your liking. Grill over a moderately high charcoal fire until firm, about 3-4 minutes max per side. Serve immediately, with a home crafted mayonnaise, aioli, or salsa du jour. Or create sumptuous sandwiches with the sautéed or grilled crab, bacon, ripe heirloom tomatoes, avocado and basil served on toasted or grilled artisanal bread.

No object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.
~Oscar Wilde

Celeriac (Apium graveolens rapaceum), also known as celery root, turnip-root celery or knob celery is a bulbous root vegetable related to anise, carrots, parsley and parsnips.

With a scruffy, knotted, almost warty outer surface, celeriac is surely considered by fashionistas as too unsightly and rotund to dare deign a designer grocery bag. And overly soiled for those freshly manicured fingers. Once peeled though, celery root’s creamy, firm white flesh resembles that of a turnip and has a subtle woodsy blend of celery and parsley. Too often shunned outside Europe, celeriac is eaten raw, fried, sautéed, blanched, and in gratins and soups.  When buying, the full, globular root should be firm with no brown soft spots, and the sprouting tops should be bright green.

While I adore the local marchés en plein airboulangeries, boucheries, fromageries, pâtisseries, and épiceries in a classic French market to kitchen progression, charcuteries make me weak-kneed.  Derived from chair cuite which means “cooked flesh,” charcuteries display daily gastronomic divinities such as saucissons, merguez, boudin noirs, jambons, pâtés, terrines, rillettes, confits, white asparagus, haricots verts, and so on…just an affluence of salted, smoked, cured meats and poultry. Edenic.  Never to be overlooked at any charcuterie is the ever present céleri rémoulade, an earthy, crunchy salad composed of julienned celery root dressed in a mustardy mayonnaise. It may be old school, but céleri rémoulade still really grooves.

Because the peeled and julienned celeriac tends to discolor, it is best to prepare the dressing before you cut into the root.

CELERIAC REMOULADE

2 lbs celery root (celeriac)

1 C mayonnaise, homemade* or prepared
1/4 C crème fraîche or whole milk plain yogurt
1 T Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice or white wine vinegar
1/4 C capers, rinsed and drained (optional)

Brush excess dirt off of the roots. Cut off the bottom and top of the roots, peel and then cut into quarters. Rinse in cool water if there is any remaining dirt or debris. Slice each quarter on a mandoline or grater into thick wooden matchsticks, so they retain their crunch once dressed. You might want to julienne by hand, with a sharp knife.

Mix together the mayonnaise, mustard, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and capers. Toss the julienned celery root with the dressing and season further to your liking. If the salad is too thick, then add some more crème fraîche or yogurt.

*Mayonnaise

4 large egg yolks, room temperature
2 T dijon mustard
2 t white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
1 t sea salt
Tiny pinch of cayenne pepper

1 1/3 C canola or grapeseed oil

Separate egg whites from yolks. Egg yolks contain a natural emulsifier, lecithin, which helps thicken sauces and bind ingredients.

With a balloon whisk, whip together the egg yolks, mustard, wine vinegar or lemon juice, salt, and cayenne pepper in a medium glass or metal bowl. Do not use plastic.

Add a few drops of oil while whisking; then pour in the oil slowly, in a very thin stream, while whisking vigorously with the bowl tilted at an angle on a folded towel. The emulsion should become thick enough to hold its shape and appear voluptuously creamy. Be patient, because if you add the oil too rapidly the mayonnaise will break and turn soupy.