By Doc Lawrence
Some sandwiches qualify as a work of art. Layers of flavor and exciting texture blended with spicing magic become a composite. Memories of favorite foods harken to baby days and the joy of tasting something indescribably delicious. While there are many delights that come to mind, I often yearn for a Soft-shell Crab Sandwich. For those who have not enjoyed this American creation, it’s time for initiation.
My first bite of this delicious treat happened during a childhood visit to the charming Gulf Coast village of Carabelle in the Florida Panhandle. I knew I had tasted paradise.
Later, I’ve had the sandwich from Maryland on down the Atlantic Coast and throughout the South. There are, naturally, some variations, but the basics are pretty consistent: battered soft-shell crabs fried in oil, Tartar Sauce, lettuce, tomato, Old Bay seasoning and toasted quality sandwich buns.
Tommy Chason, a legendary criminal defense lawyer, was a native of Chattahoochee, Florida. Tommy observed that a soft-shell crab sandwich was even tastier when enjoyed in a seaside shack with “Honey Don’t,” the Carl Perkins Sun Records classic playing on the jukebox.
This delicacy works with a multitude of beverages: iced tea, lemonade, Coca-Cola, beer or, my favorite, chilled Pinot Gris, a delicious white wine from Oregon’s King Estate.
Tommy's Original Soft-Shell Sandwich Recipe:
For the tartar sauce-
1/2 cup Duke’s mayonnaise
1 Tbs. minced red onion
1 Tbs. finely chopped dill pickle
1 Tbs. rinsed and finely chopped capers
1 Tbs. thinly sliced fresh chives
1-1/2 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. Tabasco sauce
For the crabs-
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup medium-grind yellow cornmeal
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 jumbo soft-shell crabs, cleaned
2 Tbs. corn oil
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
4 sliced white sandwich buns, toasted
4 slices of lettuce
4 to 8 slices vine-ripe tomato
Make the sauce
In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, onion, pickle, capers, with spicy tartar sauce chives, Old Bay, lemon juice, and hot pepper sauce. Set aside.
Cook the crabs
In a wide, shallow bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Dredge the crabs to coat on both sides
Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-high heat until hot. Add the butter to the skillet and swirl the pan to melt it. Add the crabs top side down and cook, shaking the pan once or twice, until crisp and browned, about 3 minutes. Flip the crabs and cook until crisp, about 3 minutes more. Transfer the crabs to a large paper-towel-lined plate.
Assemble the sandwiches
Spread the tartar sauce on the bun slices. Top half of the toast slices, sauce side up, with a piece of lettuce and 1 or 2 slices of tomato. Put one crab on each sandwich, top with the remaining toast, sauce side down, and enjoy.