Softshell crab season has returned to South Carolina. And that means you can once again chew through an entire blue crab — feet, legs, carapace and all.
For just a few weeks each spring, blue crabs in South Carolina waters shed their shells and make their way to local restaurants. (OK, it’s a little more complicated than that. I used to wonder how exactly one caught a softshell crab, given that they’re extra-shy and careful during their brief softshelled phase. Turns out crabbers just know the signs of a crab about to molt, so when they catch one of those they put it under observation until it chucks its shell. Removing the crab from the saltwater at that point will keep the shell from hardening.)
So, what’s the big deal? Why do people hyperventilate about softshells, speaking of them as though they’re the ramps of the South?
There are a lot of reasons for the hype: The strangely delightful texture of the exoskeleton (it’s not soft; more like chewy); the salty, wet burst of internal goop; the fresh, delicate crab meat; the dangly legs; the fact that they’re only available for a short time and must be served impeccably fresh. Softshells take especially well to pan-frying; their light flavors blend well with springy vegetables and salads; they go nicely with rosé. They are, in short, a perfect spring food.
In this week’s Bite of the Week, Jonathan Sharpe takes a look at Terra’s entrée version — and there are plenty of other good local options.
As of press time, Solstice Kitchen was serving softshells fried with sherry-mustard beurre blanc and deviled crab salad.
Cellar on Green has crispy fried softshells with sweet pepper-shrimp relish, City Roots butterhead lettuce, yellow grape tomatoes and green goddess dressing.
Tombo Grille has softshell crabs with Adluh grits, green tomato chow chow and red hot aioli.
Rosso Trattoria has them. Oak Table has them. So does Bourbon, which isn’t yet open (well, not really; it’s in the soft opening phase), but will be serving softshells, too, according to owner Kristian Niemi. (Bourbon holds an opening party Monday to benefit Sustainable Midlands, by the way; tickets are $65 and can be purchased at sustainablemidlands.org.)
Softshell season typically lasts just a few weeks in South Carolina. It began last week, so if you’re looking to get in on it, don’t delay.
On Saturday, the South Carolina Dialogue Foundation hosts the Turkish Cultural Festival, which features, among other things, Turkish food (and Turkish delight, that starchy, powder-coated, often rose-flavored candy beloved by some). The festival runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the foundation’s headquarters at 909 Shull St. in West Columbia.
The state’s food heritage is getting a bit of attention with the introduction of directional signs featuring Certified South Carolina Grown logos pointing to certain working farms around the state — including the Midlands’ own Cottle Strawberry Farm. Other signs will point the way to Firefly Distillery and Irvin House Vineyard on Wadmalaw Island, and Bee City in Cottageville, among others, The Associated Press reports. The program is a joint project of the state Department of Transportation, the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism and the South Carolina Department of Agriculture.
Speaking of Cottle Strawberry Farm, the 2014 public picking season is now underway; it runs through about June. Visit
cottlestrawberryfarm.com for U-pick locations, hours and other information.
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