Recipe of the week: Soft-shell crab sandwiches: Delicious and sustainable

What is the best way to eat soft-shell crab? In a sandwich.

“I would like to find whoever ‘invented’ the soft-shell crab sandwich and give that person a massive hug,” said Michel Nischan in Sustainably Delicious (Rodale). Maryland soft-shells are meant to be “eaten whole, shells and all,” which I find is best done by placing them between two slices of one’s favorite whole-wheat bread.

When buying seafood, sustainability should be as much of a concern as quality. Too many species are overfished, so unfortunately the best way to eat more responsibly is simply to eat seafood in moderation. In my own kitchen, the only ingredients I consider “acceptable to cook with” are those that are in season and have been organically raised or harvested responsibly. Happily, Maryland soft-shell crab qualifies.

Recipe of the week

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Soft-shell Crab Sandwich

If you like, ask your fishmonger to perform the first few steps of preparation.

12 live Maryland soft-shell crabs

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

¼ cup fresh thyme, minced

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup unsalted butter

12 slices whole-wheat bread

3 tbsp mayonnaise

2 tbsp grainy mustard

1 cup arugula

1½ cups Apple Slaw (below)

Remove the crabs’ soft, feather-like gills by lifting each side of shell and pulling off with fingers or snipping with kitchen shears. Use kitchen shears to remove eyes and mouth. Dry crabs well with clean kitchen towel. Mix flour and thyme in clean paper bag. Add salt and pepper to taste. One at a time, put crabs in the bag. Shake until well coated.

Heat large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add butter. When butter melts, add crabs. Cook about 4 minutes on each side, or until nicely browned. Transfer crabs to warm platter lined with clean kitchen towel.

Toast bread slices under hot broiler or in toaster oven. Mix mayonnaise and mustard. Spread on each slice of toast. Layer arugula over toast. Top with slaw and 2 crabs per sandwich. Top with remaining toast. Serves 6.

Apple Slaw

¼ lb savoy cabbage, leaves separated, large ribs removed

3 tbsp good Riesling vinegar or other white-wine vinegar

Kosher salt

2 tart, crisp heirloom apples

¼ cup fresh chervil

Freshly ground black pepper

Stack cabbage leaves in piles. Slice into thin shreds with a large chef’s knife. Put in large mixing bowl. Toss with 2 tbsp of vinegar and a little salt. Set aside for about 10 minutes, or until cabbage begins to soften and weep. Drain cabbage while tilting bowl over sink. You do not need to remove all the liquid. Do not squeeze cabbage. Core apples and cut into wedges. Slice wedges into thin pieces. Add to cabbage. Add chervil and remaining vinegar. Toss well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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