Out Of Its Shell: Tasty Dishes Featuring The Maryland Blue Crab

July 27, 2011


The proud Washingtonian inside you hates to admit that you gave up on steamed Maryland blue crabs long ago. You’re so over all the pounding, cracking and picking. Sure, a crab cake is a fuss-free alternative (when you can find one minus the filler). But there are more inventive ways to get your next blue crab fix — sans the bread crumbs or the bleeding fingertips — such as Urbana’s coaxing crab and pasta combination. “The dish would taste good with regular lump crab meat,” says executive chef John Critchley, “but the blue crab gives it a sweetness and saltiness that overall enhances the dish.”

Urbana
“I try to make all my dishes taste like crab cake, actually,” jokes chef Critchley when asked why his fettuccine can make locals forget all about their beloved crab cake. “Seriously, I love crab because it’s so versatile.” And his egg pasta at Urbana shows off one of the Maryland blue crab’s more succulent sides. Homemade noodles tossed in a spicy crab ragout are topped with chili threads and marjoram. “It goes from the hotness of the pepper to the bitterness of the marjoram to the sweetness of the crab and the creaminess of the pasta.” Skip the smaller portion ($17) and go for the full-plate dinner option ($22). Leftovers will be desired.
» 2121 P St. NW; 202-956-6650, Urbanadc.com. (Dupont)


Fiorella
Blue crab on pizza sounds like a pregnant woman’s dream, but the Maryland Blue Crab pizza ($25, $37) at Fiorella can be your reality. The restaurant takes Roman-style crust — which uses no yeast and doesn’t rise at all — “and goes no-holds-barred in terms of what to put on the pizza, which is topped with jumbo lump crab, pancetta, artichokes, Swiss cheese and a house blend of cheeses,” says executive chef Stephanie O’Mary. “I think it’s so popular because of the combination of the Swiss cheese with the blue crab. We found that to be very unique in terms of flavor profiles.”
» 152 National Plaza, National Harbor, Md.; 301-839-1811, Fiorellapizzeria.com.

Bombay
It ain’t broke, and chef Singhvi Nilesh isn’t trying to fix it. The Masala Crab appetizer ($12) has been on Bombay’s menu “for about 22, 23 years now,” says Nilesh, head chef at the restaurant since 2006. He sees no need to tweak the popular dish, which combines onions, fennel seeds, crushed black pepper, turmeric powder and curry leaves to pack the jumbo lumps of blue crab with a flavorful punch. If your tolerance for Indian green curry is low, approach the dish carefully: While the flavors are balanced, the kick of the curry can be stunning. “It’s about using the right proportion [of the other ingredients] to the quantity of crab,” to ensure the crab remains the star of the dish, Nilesh says.
» 815 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-659-3727, Bombayclubdc.com. (Farragut West)

El Centro D.F.
At El Centro, blue crab shares the limelight with Jalisco shrimp. “We break the crab down and sauté it right in there with the shrimp,” says chef Juan José Romero, second in command under the tutelage of chef de cuisine Antonio Burell (who holds the same position at El Centro’s sister restaurant and neighbor Masa 14). Once heated through, the shellfish combo is tossed with corn, Oaxaca cheese and crema fresca and rolled into the restaurant’s Jalisco Shrimp and Crab enchiladas ($16). Warning: Break into the enchiladas slowly or you’ll devour them and be too full to taste the sweet and sturdy plantains and the bright green cilantro-laced rice that accompany these rich and creamy shrimp-and-crab-stuffed packages.
» 1819 14th St. NW; 202-328-3131, Richardsandoval.com/elcentrodf. (U St.-Cardozo)

American Eats Tavern
If you’ve ever wondered how crab-and-Old-Bay-flavored cotton candy might taste, order America Eats’ Crab with Old Bay Air ($12 each). The dish starts with a mix of butter and the classic spice — and not some homemade blend, because “you don’t mess with Old Bay,” says research chef Robyn Stern. Sucro (an emulsifier) is blended in to create the “air.” The frothy substance is layered over lumps of hand-picked blue crab nestled in a shell. The entree is a refined equivalent to getting down and gritty with steamed crabs.
» 405 8th St. NW; 202-393-0812, Americaeatstavern.com. (Archives)


THE SOFTER SIDE OF CRAB
If you simply must have a crab sandwich, these soft-shell versions will more than satisfy.

Vermilion
As you can see from the photo to the left, the Soft Shell Crab “BLT” ($15) at Vermilion isn’t really a sandwich. Minus the bread, this deconstructed rendition comes with fried green tomato, smoked bacon, frisée and whipped avocado.
» 1120 King St., Alexandria; 703-684-9669, Vermilionrestaurant.com. (King Street)

The Source
If you haven’t tried chef Scott Drewno’s Mini Po’ Boys ($14) at the Source by Wolfgang Puck, go now. And tell the server to slather on extra garlic, chili aioli and heirloom tomatoes marinated in Ponzu (a citrus-based sauce). Talk about mmm, mmm good.
» 575 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-637-6100, Wolfgangpuck.com. (Archives)

Photos by Elaine Kouroupas; Kris Connor; Jennifer Eberline

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Katie Aberbach | July 26, 2011