Seasonal Favorites

Seasonal Favorites
Timing is everything with specialty dishes.
STORY BY: AMI BROWN
Fresh seafood is abundant in this area and the local restaurants really know how to deliver! Some of my favorite local dishes include the grouper salad at Provisions Company, the salmon at the Frying Pan and Island Way, the broiled scallops at Turtle Island, the Grouper Oscar at Oliver’s, and the crab cakes at Dead End Saloon. Mr. P’s offers delicious softshell crab fresh seasonally so I did a little research about this delicacy and the man hours that goes into sourcing this dish.

SOFTSHELL CRAB
A softshell crab is really a hard shell crab that has just shed its shell. It happens only a couple times a year and it only stays soft for about 3 hours. So you can imagine timing is everything. I had a chat to Kathy at Clem’s Seafood on Oak Island and she gave me the scoop on how they do it.
The shedding period last for about 3-4 weeks in the Spring, but it can change from year to year. The live blue crabs are captured and placed in large holding tanks. They are monitored around the clock. Kathy monitors them sometimes in the day time, but she leaves the night time duty up to her husband, Jeff Clemmons – also known as “Clem”.
As soon as the crab sheds its shell it is removed from the tank, harvested as a fresh – soft shell crab. It only takes about 3 hours for the new softshell to become hard again….timing is crucial. A very short window of opportunity exists for this yummy favorite. Kathy said there is another opportunity in the fall where the crabs shed again, but with the time it takes, they only harvest in the Spring shed.
A lot of restaurants do serve soft shell crab all year, but they would have been frozen. When you see a restaurant serving fresh soft shell crab seasonally in the Spring, then you know it’s going to be good!
When looking up a recipe for softshell crabs, I found that less is more. They only need to be lightly floured and fried in butter for a short time, 3-4 minute on each side. The seasoning seems to be limited to Old Bay, lemon, thyme or just salt and pepper. Of course, there are a variety of sauces for a topping or dipping. They can be eaten on a bun, bread, toast or just served up on a plate. YUM!
SHAD ROE
Another local southern tradition all about timing is Shad Roe. Shad is an American saltwater fish, a type of herring that spawns in fresh water at the start of spring. The American shad, a boney fish that is typically three to five pounds each, is prized not for its meat but for its eggs, a delicacy known as Shad Roe. These eggs sacs are only in the females and only during a very short during the early Spring. I was introduced to Shad Roe a few ago at an Easter Sunrise service in Virginia. They are not fishy at all, tender and a little gritty – but soft. They take on mostly the flavor of what they are cooked with. (Bacon is a nice choice) This Southern recipe from honest-food.net that sounds delicious.
Ingredients
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 pint cold water
At least 1 roe sac per person
1/4 pound bacon
2 onions, sliced
1/2 teaspoon thyme
2 teaspoons honey
1 cup grits
Salt and black pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Flour for dusting
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Lemon juice to taste
Instructions
Dissolve the salt in the cool water and submerge the roes in the brine for at least an hour, and up to 4 hours. The larger the roe sacs, the longer you will want to brine.
About 45 minutes before you want to cook the roe, crisp the bacon. Leave about 3 tablespoons of bacon fat in the pan to cook the onions. Caramelize the onions in the bacon fat by cooking them over medium-low heat for 20 to 35 minutes, stirring occasionally. About 15 minutes into this process, Add the thyme, a pinch of salt, and the honey. When the onions are done, chop up some of the bacon and add it to the pan. Cook the grits and keep warm (I’m sure you know how to do that).
Remove the roe from the brine and dust in flour. Add 3 tablespoons of bacon fat to the pan, brown the roe on medium. About 5 to 8 minutes, it’s better to be slightly underdone than overcooked.
Serve with grits, bacon on the side. Add a little lemon juice and chopped parsley to the onions and put on top of the grits, grind black pepper over everything and serve the roe. Lemon wedges on the side is a nice touch. Eat up!
SHE CRAB SOUP
Another delicious seasonal favorite is She Crab soup. The reddish-pink color of the soup comes from the eggs. They also give it that sweet flavor we love. These eggs are only in (of course) the female crabs and are only harvested during a short time in the Spring/Summer as well. This recipe from allrecipes.com is a winner!
Ingredients:
2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups half and half cream
4 teaspoons finely-grated onion
3/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and white pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1/4 teaspoon red (cayenne) pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest (rind)
1 1/2 pounds flaked blue crab meat
1/4 cup crab roe
3 tablespoons dry sherry
1 tablespoon finely-chopped parsley
Instructions:
In a large pot on low, melt butter; add flour and blend until smooth. Slowly add milk and half and half cream, stirring constantly with a whisk; cook until thickened.
Add onion, Worcestershire sauce, salt, white pepper, mace, cayenne pepper, and lemon zest. Bring just to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low, add crabmeat and crab roe; simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes (if the soup appears about to boil, remove the pan from the heat for a minute or so, then return). Remove from heat and add sherry, stirring to mix. Let sit for 3 to 4 minutes before serving.
Serve the soup into bowls, dividing the crabmeat and roe equally into each bowl. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately. Yields: 4 servings.

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