These crabs are served in late spring and summer at Herbsaint and Cochon restaurants in New Orleans. The combination of crisp and soft, spicy and minty flavors is a winning one.
Make Ahead: The chili glaze mixture can be made 3 days in advance; refrigerate or freeze, but bring to room temperature before using. (You may have some left over.) The coleslaw can be assembled, covered and refrigerated a day in advance.
- For the coleslaw
- 1 cup low-fat mayonnaise
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- Juice of 1 medium lime (at least 2 teaspoons)
- 1 large jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped (3 to 4 tablespoons)
- 1 bunch scallions (white and light-green parts), minced (1/2 to 3/4 cup)
- 1 small napa cabbage, cut into thin slices (about 4 cups)
- Leaves from 1 small bunch mint, torn into large pieces (3/4 cup)
- 1 large carrot, peeled and grated (3/4 to 1 cup)
- For the chili glaze
- 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons Vietnamese garlic chili sauce, such as Taste of Thai brand
- 1 tablespoon Asian-style (spicy) chile sauce, such as sriracha
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 1/2 teaspoons)
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, preferably seedless (Asian)
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- For the crab
- Peanut oil, for frying
- 4 soft-shell crabs, cleaned (see NOTE)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 cups buttermilk
- 2 cups flour
For the coleslaw: Whisk together the mayonnaise, salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, vinegar, lime juice, jalapeno pepper and scallions in a large mixing bowl.
Add the cabbage, mint and carrot; toss until well coated. Taste for seasonings and add more salt as desired. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
For the chili glaze: Combine the butter, garlic chili sauce and spicy chili sauce, honey, garlic, cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, lemon juice and salt in a medium bowl; mix well to incorporate. Let sit at room temperature.
For the crab: Heat enough of the oil over medium-high to high heat in a heavy-bottomed pot to measure 4 inches. The oil should register about 350 degrees. Line a platter with several layers of paper towels.
Place the cleaned soft-shells on paper towels so they stay dry. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Place the buttermilk and flour in separate wide, shallow bowls.
Working with 2 at a time, dip the soft-shells in the flour, then in the buttermilk, then in the flour again to coat evenly. Carefully add to the oil and fry for about 5 minutes, flipping the crabs once, until the bubbling subsides and they have a nice golden color. Transfer to the paper-towel-lined platter. Repeat with the remaining crabs.
It's best to glaze each crab separately while it's hot. To do so, place 2 to 4 tablespoons of the chili glaze mixture in the bottom of a large mixing bowl. Add one hot crab and gently swirl the bowl around to coat the crab with the butter; turn over to coat both sides. (You can also use a pastry brush to paint the butter on the crab). Do this step quickly; the crab should be in the butter just long enough to coat and not to completely melt the butter. Repeat for the remaining crabs. (Cover and refrigerate or freeze any unused chili glaze mixture.)
Divide the crabs among individual plates; serve warm, with the cool coleslaw.
NOTE: You can ask the fishmonger to clean the soft-shell crab, or do it yourself by laying the crab on a cutting board, belly side up. Pull off the flap called the apron. Next, turn it over and use kitchen scissors to snip off the front of the crab (eyes and mouth), to about half an inch behind the eyes. Then lift the pointed end of the crab's outer shell and remove and discard the gills. Rinse the crab and pat dry.
Adapted from "Real Cajun: Rustic Home Cooking From Donald Link's Louisiana," by Donald Link with Paula Disbrowe (Clarkson Potter, 2009).
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
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