By - Aug 1st, 2003 02:52 pm
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By Cynthia Vasques

It has always amazed me that human beings can consume just about anything that crawls or oozes out of the earth. Who was that first prehistoric homo sapiens who picked up a disgusting snail and said to himself, “Mmmm, yummy- looking?” Or perhaps it was a Cro-Magnon future Frenchman who said the equivalent of “Zoot alors, I’ll eat ‘zis thing!”

I had always felt somewhat ill at ease when faced with eating something whose legs were arranged on the plate and whose eyes were staring blankly upward, so I therefore had never experienced the exquisite crunch of soft shell crabs sautéed to perfection until our family moved to Milwaukee, where I became completely obsessive about these seasonal tidbits. My husband, the inveterate fly fisherman, has always been able to eat anything that swims including sea urchin, so I really had never counted on liking soft shells even though he had often tried to foist them upon me.

So, it was a great shock to find myself ordering them for the first time at River Lane Inn, a long-established scion of seafood located in Brown Deer. Fran, the effervescent hostess who we have now spent seven years getting to know and adore, encouraged the choice that started my ensuing obsession. Since that first taste of crunchy, delicate shell releasing a burst of juicy flavor, I cannot get enough of these crabby little morsels. We have ordered them several different ways from creative chef JoLinda Klopp of River Lane Inn this season.

In four recent visits she featured them Cajun-style, which packed a real wallop! Everyone at the table was wowed by them, but I felt the preparation over-powered their delicate flavor so I opted to have them sautéed them in a lemon beurre-blanc, a more classic way and my particular favorite. We have always counted on both of Jim Marx’ marvelous restaurants for our yearly fix of soft shells, and recently chef Thomas Peschong of Riversite in Mequon obliged us withhis unique talents, presenting us with impeccable soft shells. Thomas has been creating exceptional seafood dishes using only the finest ingredients for nearly 13 years at Riversite, and shows no signs of depleting his treasure chest of ideas. He and owner Jim Marx are responsible for some Milwaukee’s most creative pairings of exotic tastes in food and wine, and host frequent wine-tasting dinners.

Next season we will be back in hot pursuit of the succulent softshells and other flavors to pass on to you. This recipe is one of Thomas Peshong’s simple favorites to try with your own frying pan!

“Maryland” softshell crabs

6 live jumbo softshell crabs 1/2 cup seasoned flour* Peanut oil or olive oil for frying 1 shallot, peeled and diced 3 Tbsp. lemon juice 3 Tbsp. capers (nonpariels) 3 Tbsp. dry white wine 4 oz. (1 stick) salted butter, chilled and cut into patties salt & pepper

  • Clean the crabs by snipping off the eyes, lifting the back flaps over the bodies and removing the fibrous lungs.
  • Dredge crabs on both sides in seasoned flour.
  • Heat oil to about 365c and fry crabs for about 3-5 minutes until golden brown. Make sure not to crowd the pan.
  • When golden, remove the crabs and keep warm.
  • Remove oil and add shallot; render until slightly pink.
  • Add wine, lemon juice and capers.
  • Bring to boil and reduce by a half.
  • Add butter, small amounts at a time, and whip slowly until the butter is incorporated and a nice, glossy sauce exists.
  • Add parsley and salt and pepper, if needed.
  • Pour over sauce over crabs and enjoy!

*seasoned flour: 1 cup Arborio rice 3 cups all purpose flour 1 cup Semolina 3 Tbsp. kosher salt 1 Tbsp. ground black pepper Grind rice in blender until very fine. Toss with other ingredients and blend well.

River Lane Inn 4313 W. River Lane, Brown Deer 414.354.1995 Charming old building with cozy nooks and outdoor terrace. Wednesdays are Maine lobster night.

Riversite Restaurant 11120 N Cedarburg Rd., Mequon 262.242.6050 A beautiful setting on the Milwaukee River where birds and other wildlife are easily observed while imbibing and dining on wonderful dishes.

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