This seasonal Chesapeake breakfast is a trifecta of not-so-easy culinary skills: perfectly poached eggs, sautéd soft shelled crabs and a hollandaise sauce. We were under way today with six people on board, including a film director who planned a 360º panorama VR filming of the event. It was 99º on the bay, 56% humidity, winds 0-5. Mostly 0. I was in the galley with my Force 10 full on toasting english muffins, heating pans of hot oil and boiling water, reciting my benediction that the hollandaise would thicken, the poached eggs wouldn’t fall apart and the legs of the crabs wouldn’t stick together.
Soft Shelled Crabs Benediction*, or rather Ben-ADDICTION, was a brilliant name created by autocorrect. After a taste test my daughter Evelyn texted me “Holy god that was good. What do you call it?” At which point Soft Shell Crabs Benedict became “Benediction” and whoosh…it was out on Facebook. Heavenly, blessed and divine as it is, the name was befitting.
A benediction (Latin: bene, well + dicere, to speak) is a short invocation for divine help, blessing and guidance, usually at the end of worship service or galley meal preparation.
First off, the Hollandaise Sauce. Having a hand cranked food processor on board is an essential galley item and is key to making this sauce. It has a beater attachment that can whip cream and eggs as fast as any electric beater. It even comes with an egg separator. This recipe is loosely based on Ina Garten’s solution for making a quick and easy hollandaise sauce still using traditional ingredients. (for an even easier, non-traditional recipe, check out my co-pirate’s “Magic Hollandaise Sauce!”)
9 tablespoons butter, melted
3 large or 4 medium egg yolks
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
1-2 pinches cayenne pepper
Melt butter in a small pan on your stove. While the butter is melting, separate your eggs and place the yolks in your hand cranked processor with the beater element attached. Add the lemon juice, salt and cayenne and beat for about 30 seconds. While beating, slowly pour in the melted butter and continue to crank for one to two minutes until thickened. You’ll find this amazingly similar to winching in the jib sheet. The sauce can be set aside at room temperature for up to one hour. (Or probably 10 minutes in my 90º cabin.) If you plan to make your sauce ahead of time, keep it in your ice box and re-whip when needed, adding a little hot water.
Now on to part two of the meal, the preparation of the crabs.
Did I mention we had a commercial director on board filming this production? Yup, Guido Cassetta. Originally from Rome, he works out of DC as an Independent Broadcast Media Producer. Cool guy. He’s into this whole virtual reality thing, with his 360º high tech eyeball gizmo catching every move we made through time lapse. He thought the best place to set up his tripod was on my cutting board. Sigh. I obliged.
When it comes to soft shelled crabs, it’s always good to know a little bit about what you’re eating. The soft shelled crab is a blue crab who has recently…within a few hours…molted it’s hard shell, exposing a delicate, edible, thinner-than-paper shell. (Having read Beautiful Swimmers more than once, I could go on and on about molting, doublers, sooks and the life cycle of Callinectes sapidus. Or point you to a real source and get on with my cooking. Yeah, I’ll do that.) This soft shelled crab can be eaten whole, as long as it is thoroughly cleaned. Cleaning involves snipping off their faces, removing their belly apron and taking out their gills. This whole process occurs in the “dormant but not quite dead” stage of their life. For obvious reasons I prefer to get my crabs cleaned at Annapolis Seafood. They do an excellent job!
Sautéd Soft Shelled Crabs Benediction
6 cleaned soft shelled crabs (faces and gills removed)
1 cup flour
1/2 cup self-rising corn meal
3 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons thyme
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup evaporated milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons water
4 cups Canola Oil
6 English muffins, halved
2 cups watercress
2 tomatoes, sliced
soft butter spread
minced chives for garnish
fresh ground black pepper
Mix all of the breading ingredients together in a shallow pan. Mix all of the egg wash ingredients together in another shallow pan.
Preheat your galley oven to toasty hot. If you have a broiler, use that. Lay your 12 muffin slices on a baking sheet and toast in your hot oven until they just start to crisp. Remove from oven, lightly butter each half, and wrap them in a towel to stay warm.
Meanwhile heat up the canola oil in a large pot. Vegetable oil works as well, but not olive oil. Your oil will be at the right temperature when you drop in a little flour and it immediately sizzles. Or you can use a thermometer, which I don’t have on board (375º). Dredge one crab at a time, first in the flour mixture, then in the egg mixture, then back to the flour mixture. Shake excess off, make sure the legs aren’t stuck together, and carefully place in the hot oil.
If your pan is large enough to fit two crabs, repeat with another crab.
Fry for 2 minutes, turn over with tongs and fry for another 2-3 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate.
Begin assembling your “Benedicts.” Lay two English muffin halves on each plate, touching. Place a small handful of watercress on each muffin, then lay a slice of tomato on each half (two tomato slices per plate). Top with a crab.
And now…the poached eggs.
6 large eggs
3″ of boiling water in a pan
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar (no substitutes. I’ve learned the hard way!)
Everyone has a friend who’s a vintage hound, right? My friend Sue has supplied me with a collection of those 1950s era Pyrex sauce pans and double boilers, perfect for poaching eggs. Yup. I hear all your sailors out there. I totally get that no one in their right mind would have a glass pan on a sailboat. Enough said. But it sure is great to see what’s going on with your eggs as they cook.
Fill your pan with three inches of water and bring to a low boil. Break an egg into a 1/2 measuring cup. Once your water is at a good simmer (not quite a rolling boil) stir in the teaspoon of vinegar and continue stirring in the center to create a funnel of simmering water. Gently sink your egg into this funnel and let poach for 2 minutes and 15 seconds. This would be much better described through video. Maybe that 360º panoramic eyeball watching me caught some of it.
After 2.25 minutes, gently lift out with a slotted spoon and let drain for a couple seconds on a paper towel. (you can leave it in the spoon while it drains). Place on top of a crab. Then pour the hollandaise sauce over your masterpiece and sprinkle on some chopped chives and fresh ground pepper.
Serve the first plate to your hungriest guest and continue on with the rest.
Repeat the procedure with the remaining 5 eggs.
And now comes the best part of eating any Eggs Benedict…the poke. Just watch the yolk ooze out of the perfectly poached egg. This Soft Shelled Crab Benediction is a delectable combination of creamy, tangy, crunchy, salty, peppery and sweet. Glorious and heavenly.
Whew! It all turned out divine! Pat, who knows her way around a gourmet meal and has taught me a culinary thing or two, said it was the best soft shelled crab she’s ever had! Wow! And Jamie, the virgin soft shelled crab eater who has avoided them all his life…cause…. well they just seem kinda gross…said he actually liked them. And for the 360º panorama filming, well check it out:
If you don’t have a headset, use your mouse to scroll around, left, right…all the way around and you’ll get the full 3D effect.
Everything was perfect. Well, almost…