scroll down for Grilled Soft Shells - recipe included
MOUNTAINS TO THE SEA
"Variety Vacationland" used to be NC's tag line, referring to its coast, mountains, and plenty of things to do in between. That's one of the reasons we returned to our home state. Three hours or less and we're digging our toes into the wet sand of the
Atlantic. Three hours the opposite way and we can be on a hiking trail or up a creek getting a fly wet. And the food varies a bit with the scenery, too!
I've endured a split personality this month, logging in time at both extremes.
Asheville is a beautiful metro area, located along the French Broad River, in a bowl beneath Pisgah, Cold Mountain and the Blue Ridge, with some very fine eating establishments. We were up for our youngest daughter's graduation from UNC-A. She chose her favorite, TWELVE BONES, to gather the fixin's for the big party we threw at her rental house. Twelve Bones is owned by a Louisiana native, who makes the best ribs I've ever eaten. I love the daily specials, and love the blueberry chipotle sauce for the ribs. For her party, we got their tasty, smoky chopped barbecue, done Eastern-NC style, if you will, with a rub and vinegar base (no tomato sauce). We all pigged out, but there was enough for leftover sandwiches for several meals. A great party, by the way!
Twelve Bones is only open Mon through Fri at lunch. Usually there's a long line wrapped around the no-bones cinderblock building down in the industrial river area, with pickups sharing the parking lot with Mercedes. Eat in, or take plates outside under a large shelter. They make marvelous cornbread, macaroni and cheese, collards and other veggie sides, and the price is right.
Late in the evening, the hubby and I slipped away from the kids, kegs and 'cue for a quiet moment of celebration for getting three through college. We sat outside the Market Place Cafe, what they call "BarOneHundred, where there are a few tables and a neat tasting menu. All wines are $8 bucks for a short carafe, and there's a short menu of snacks, cheese, fish and pasta and desserts, of course. It was perfect. We watched the moon climb over the hills while munching on candied walnuts, pimento cheese, pickles and flatbread, then shared a nibble of grilled mountain trout. A perfect ending to a perfect day.
I am crazy for crabs. Love them. Hard or soft, grilled or steamed, picked or not. I prefer blue crabmeat over lobster. There's so much more flavor, and, they're found in NC waters!
Crabs awake from their winter slumber, spent in the mucky bottom of the sounds, in early spring. By the first full moon in May, they begin to molt, or peel their shells, for bigger coats. In my OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK,
you'll find an account of how the jimmies, or the males, are wooed by the females into their chambers, and after mating then protect the lady when she sheds by cradling her under their tummy. How romantic, huh?
"Feels like silk," said a big, strapping young man who picked up a crab that had just left its shell, while he was tending to some holding tanks on the waterfront at Wanchese. I wanted to ask what silks he had felt to compare the crab to, but.....
So before we left Oriental, the sailing capital of NC, I had to nab some soft shells. We had spent Memorial Day weekend with friends sailing the Neuse River on Lagniappe, their beautiful 37-footer, and exploring smaller creeks on their little motorboat, Jockomo. Joe and Dede are New Orleans transplants - can you tell? Joe is quite the cook, whipping up shrimp stuffed red peppers one night, shrimp jambalaya another. Loved it.
But before we left, we went over the bridge to Endurance Seafood, where we got the last of the day's soft shells. Big, plump - they would have qualified as "hotels," they were just beautiful, having just shedded. We grilled them with a lime butter sauce, and served them simply with more melted butter and lime. I frequently use lime, rather than lemon, because I like its sweeter, more mellow flavor.
Here's the recipe for grilled soft shells that appears in THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK.
Grilled Soft Shells with Creole Sauce
Hot and crunchy is how these soft shells come straight off the grill. This is one of the easiest ways to prepare this seasonal treat, and allows the succulent texture and taste of the crabmeat to shine.
Simply serve 2 to 3 soft shells per person over a bed of lightly dressed greens. We found using a perforated grill pan kept the crab legs from falling through the grates and breaking off. If you prefer to leave out the hot sauce, it will still be delicious.
12 medium soft shells, cleaned
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco, or to taste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1. Preheat grill.
2. Pat cleaned soft shells dry, and lay them in a shallow dish.
3. Over medium heat, melt butter. Add garlic and stir for about one minute. Remove from heat and add the hot sauce and lemon juice. Stir to mix.
4. Brush the butter sauce over both sides of each soft shell, then dribble excess over the legs. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Allow soft shells to sit until the grill is ready, or about 10 minutes.
5. When grill is medium hot, place crabs evenly over grill without touching. Close the lid and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes, depending on thickness. Turn the crabs over, and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, or until crabs have gotten a bit crisp and golden brown.
YIELD: 4 to 6 servings.
With just a bit of a kick, this sauce adds a sassy finishing touch to crabs, shrimp or grilled fish, and it couldn't be easier to make.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons drained capers, chopped
2 teaspoons finely chopped chives
2 teaspoons sweet pickle relish
1 generous tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, or to taste
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1/4 teaspoon salt
several grinds black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a small serving bowl. Taste for seasonings and adjust.
YIELD: about 3/4 cup
copyright THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK; Recipes & Traditions from NC's Barrier Islands, Elizabeth Wiegand, Three Forks, 2008