This recipe calls for patience and precision. The ragout of tender spring vegetables and the butter sauce with lemon added just at the end make for a refined, special dish. The soft-shells become extra crisp when they are finished in the oven.
Make Ahead: The vegetables can be blanched (separately), cooled, covered and refrigerated a day in advance.
- For the crab and lemon-herb butter
- 1/2 cup low-fat milk
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 4 soft-shell crabs, cleaned (see NOTE)
- 1/2 cup flour
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 16 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- For the ragout
- 8 ounces whole fava beans, shelled (1/2 cup peeled)
- 2 ounces haricots verts (thin French green beans), trimmed (1/2 cup total after they have been cut into 1-inch lengths)
- 1/2 cup fresh English peas, shelled (3 to 4 ounces)
- 6 medium spears asparagus, peeled
- 1 large shallot, minced (3 to 4 tablespoons)
- 1 medium clove garlic, minced (1 teaspoon)
- 1 teaspoon summer savory, chopped (optional)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- For assembly
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
- Leaves from 1 sprig of tarragon, snipped (1 teaspoon)
- Leaves from 2 sprigs of chervil (1 teaspoon)
- 12 scallions, white parts only (may substitute 1/2 cup roasted pearl onions)
- 8 long, cylindrical French breakfast radishes, cut lengthwise into quarters (4 to 5 ounces; may substitute regular radishes, trimmed and cut into thin slices)
For the crab and lemon-herb butter: Combine the milk and buttermilk in a medium stainless-steel bowl, then add the cleaned soft-shell crabs, making sure they are evenly coated and as submerged as possible.
Heat 2 tablespoons of water in a medium nonreactive saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring just to a boil, then whisk in the butter. Reduce the heat to medium-low, whisking constantly until the water is incorporated. Keep warm; it will look thin and creamy.
For the ragout: Fill a medium bowl with ice cubes and water.
Bring a medium saute pan filled with salted water to a boil over high heat. You'll blanch each vegetable separately in the following order, using a slotted spoon or skimmer to transfer them to the ice-water bath immediately before adding the next vegetable: fava beans (about 3 minutes); haricots verts (about 2 minutes); peas (about 4 minutes), asparagus (about 2 minutes). All of the vegetables should be just tender and bright green.
Cut the cooled asparagus on the diagonal into 1-inch lengths. Peel the cooled fava beans; place the asparagus pieces, fava beans, haricots verts and peas in a mixing bowl.
(At this point, the vegetables can be refrigerated for up to 1 day.)
When ready to assemble: Heat 1/2 tablespoon of the butter-water mixture in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 4 minutes, until it has softened and is almost transparent. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the blanched-vegetable mixture, scallions and radishes; cook for about 3 minutes, stirring to coat evenly. Season with the savory, if desired, and salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to low; keep warm.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Have ready a baking sheet. Place the flour in a wide, shallow dish and season lightly with salt and pepper.
Remove the soft-shells from the milk mixture, shaking off any excess. (Discard the milk mixture.) Dip the crabs into the seasoned flour. shaking off any excess.
Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Work with 2 soft-shells at a time; add to the pan top side down. Cook for about 2 minutes, until crisped and lightly browned. Transfer to the baking sheet, turning the crabs right side up; bake for 2 to 3 minutes, until cooked through. As the crabs are done, transfer them to a platter and cover loosely to keep warm but still crisp.
Turn off the oven and place 4 heatproof plates inside to warm them for serving.
When all the crabs have been cooked in the saute pan, remove the pan from the heat and use paper towels to wipe away any oil. Return to medium-low heat. Add the lemon juice, then the remaining butter-water mixture, tarragon and chervil, stirring to combine and heat through.
When ready to serve, remove the plates from the oven. Divide the vegetable mixture among them. Place the cooked soft-shell on top, then drizzle the lemon-herb butter sauce around the plate and on top of the crab, if desired. Serve immediately.
Adapted from Bob Kinkead, chef-owner of Kinkead's restaurant in Washington.
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
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