Corn Flake Crusted Softshell with Southern Summer Hash

I did this dish a couple months ago when soft shells first came into season; it was like summer on a plate.

The hash is composed of house made andouille sausage, black eyed peas, fresh corn, celery and red bell peppers. What I do with this is render the andouille first, remove it from the heat, then sauté the celery and red peppers in the fat for just a couple minutes. Then I add the corn and black eyed peas, deglaze with chicken stock and let simmer for several more minutes until the corn is tender. At that point I flavor the hash with equal parts apple cider vinegar and dark brown sugar, then just a little whole grain mustard to taste. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

For the soft shell crab I use blue swimming crabs, which are available on the East coast from May until July. They are called “soft shells” because they are caught while they are molting, so they are edible from end to end. The only thing I do is cut off the face and the gills. The window to catch them while they are molting is so small that they are considered a true delicacy.

In preparing these soft shells I use a Corn Flake crust, using the typical Kellogg’s breakfast cereal. This recipe was adapted from one that a great sous chef I used to work for used while I was in Baltimore. I use equal part panko bread crumb and cornflakes, then spin them quickly in the food processor. I add about two tablespoons of Old Bay seasoning and two tablespoons of freshly chopped parsley. Then I grind it all again in the food processor quickly. The reason that you don’t want to add the parsley in the beginning is because you just want to mix it through…if you add it in the beginning then it can color the breading green. Use a standard breading procedure when preparing the crabs. Dredge them in flour to give the breading something to stick to, and then dip in an egg wash, then into the breading. The key to making this really crispy is to go right into the fryer after breading, rather than holding this cold. If you hold it after breading then the breading will take on moisture from the product and from the humidity of the refrigerator.

After frying them to a golden, crispy brown, I take them out to drain on a roasting rack and pat them dry with a paper towel. You probably won’t need to season these since the Old Bay has so much salt in it already. For presentation I usually cut these guys right in half right down the middle.

The green mass that you’ll see in the center is the heart and the intestines. Many people refer to this as the “mustard”, probably to make it sound more palatable. Be careful when you bisect them…if the crabs are hot then the “mustard” tends to fire out. One evening cooking in Baltimore we were featuring fried soft shell crabs with avocado puree. I was working the fryer station, so I was responsible for cooking and plating the softies. After three hours and over two hundred covers I was covered head to clog in green matter. I didn’t know where the crab guts ended and the avocado began.

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