Friday, July 08, 2005

A Virgin in the Kitchen: How Do You Cook Soft Shell Crabs?

Today I went to the local market and they'd received a shipment of soft shell crabs, which my husband and I had just voraciously enjoyed at an excellent Italian cafe near Division and Damen here in Chicago this past weekend. With visions of that breaded, parsleyed, crunchy yet meaty crab in my mind, I quickly filched up a few from the seafood counter. The fellow behind the counter said, "They're still frozen, is that a problem?" Of course, being a total neo-phyte and having never cooked a crab or lobster in my life, I said, "Uh, no..." as in, "Why would it be?"

Having come home, proudly lugging my little frozen soft shelled crabs in their bag, I ran to the computer and punched in "soft shell crabs" into and into another website, That is when I read, to my increasing horror, that I had to "properly clean them" by peeling back the pointed parts of the shell and scraping away the gills on both sides, then using sharp scissors to cut off the head and carefully "squeeze out the green bubble behind the eyes," followed by bending back the apron until it breaks off and removing the intestinal vein. (All credit for the above instructions goes to, by the way.)


I lost my appetite right there. No wonder he had asked me so solicitously, "Are you sure it's okay if they're frozen?" Because usually I would've asked him to clean them for me. If they had been thawed. And if I had known enough to do so.


My mother is at her weekly Friday social event. I can't even call her to whine about cleaning the crabs. I remember her doing SOMETHING to them when I was a kid, but not much. Maybe I blanked it out of my memory? See, I don't mind cooking it once it's all fileted and cleaned and ready for cooking, but I'm still a bit yukked out by having to do it myself.

Which brings me to my husband's brother-in-law. He is absolutely amazing. He is a surgeon who lives up in a less populated portion of the Midwest, and he is also an avid hunter and fisherman who is, yes, a gourmet chef. Imagine -- he guts and cleans the fish and the carcasses all on his own because he also does surgery for work. At least he gets a lot of practice from both his hobby and his job!

It's absolutely fascinating to go visit with them because I love my husband's sister and her family, and her house is littered with Cabela's sporting goods catalogs for hunters and fishermen. Many a late night, when I couldn't sleep, I'd be paging through reading about smokers, sausage makers, venison choppers, hickory wood, coyote call makers, e-collars for hunting dogs, waterproof hiking boots, and so on.

Here I am, confronted by these crabs, which I enjoyed so much last Saturday. If my mom were here, I wouldn't have a problem. Does that mean I'm immature? I've already lived in 6 countries, in most of them alone, and had 5 careers. That makes me pretty old. But plunging that lobster headfirst into a pot of boiling water has always bothered me a bit.

Another confession! It's confession day from the former vegan. I love eating meat. I just don't like prepping it for cooking. Well, a New York City chef admitted the same thing the other night on the Food Network. He was traveling around the world to see where the food comes from that he serves in his restaurant. Pretty cool. But they axed out all of the gory stuff. (Another pun, this one not intended at all!) He looked like he was going to be sick. Poor dude.

I have oysters. Those are less... trying to deal with. Maybe we'll just have oysters tonight. I'll let you know how it goes with the crab cleaning. Maybe they'll go in the freezer again for another week. My husband, having grown up on a farm, isn't bothered by many things. The second time I went up to Nebraska to his family's farm, they all went skeet shooting. It was a lot of fun to watch, actually, and you could see how horribly difficult shooting really is. You have to gauge for wind, distance, the arc of the bullet due to gravity, the speed of the skeet, etc.

At the end of the day, in the late afternoon, they asked me if I'd like to try a shot with the rifle. I said, "Sure! But not at anything moving." So they set down an empty box about 30 feet away from me and told me to give it a shot (pun intended, ha ha). I sighted down the barrel and pulled -- and MISSED! The 8" square box just looked back at me, glaring from its untouched position across the field. My husband smiled at me and patted me on the back, saying, "Darling, it's even tougher when the box is shooting back at you."


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