Pick up a July issue of Salt Magazine and find my photograph of a soft-shell crab over linguine with ramp pesto from the Surf House in Carolina Beach! I’m a Maryland boy so you know I loved this dish! Mmmmm
Read the story by Jason Frye below! :
A memorable encounter with ramps and soft-shell crabs
By Jason Frye
The first time I saw a soft-shell crab sandwich I thought I would die. The legs got me. Those little legs just sticking out, hanging there, wagging. That sandwich looked like a deep-fried spider stuffed between two buns, and it was terrifying.
But it also made me wonder what was so good about a soft-shell crab. I soon found out and after devouring a spider roll (that’s what I’ve taken to calling them), I was hooked. From the crunch to the subtle sweetness of the crabmeat, I found a new dish to love. Which is why I was so excited to have soft-shell crab over linguine with ramp pesto at Surf House in Carolina Beach a few weeks ago.
Let me set the stage: I write a lot about food. At the table with me were a trio of esteemed editors from some big Southern publications and a chef, but not just any chef, a chef who’s been a James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef: Southeast three times. It was quite a group to eat with, and when this bowl of steaming pasta and crabs hit the table, there was an audible intake of breath.
The presentation was simple: a white bowl, a mound of pasta — bright green with the pungent pesto — surrounded by eight beautifully fried soft-shell crabs, all topped with a loose handful of fresh dill. The flavor was anything but.
There was the usual (for chefs, editors and food writers anyway) jostling for an Instagram-worthy photo and the subsequent rotation and repositioning of the plate, but after we had taken our pictures, we began forking out pasta and crabs to each of the diners.
First, a word on ramps. Ramps — a wild plant that’s a sort of garlic-onion-leek hybrid — are something I grew up with in West Virginia and still get a kick out of the fact that people either, a) freak out for ramps, or b) are scared to death of them because their flavor (and smell) is rich and long-lasting. They add a great snap of flavor to any dish when used properly, and chef Craig Love definitely used them right in this dish. Their aroma was present, but subdued (you can’t accuse ramps of being subtle), and the flavor was spot on as it overwhelmed neither the sweet crab nor delicate flavor of the pasta.
Now a word on soft-shell crabs. I’m not the only one who has had an alarmed reaction to a soft-shelled crab, and, let’s face it, like them or not, they’re a little creepy looking, a little like deep-fried spiders. But these were flawless. Thick and meaty, coated with the ideal amount of breading, and cooked to the perfect point of doneness. Each bite had the right flavor and had the right texture — a little crunch, a little toothsome chew.
All evening, our group had been drinking cocktails, having oyster shooters, talking about every dish and having impromptu contests to see who’s photo of the Redneck Picnic charcuterie tray could get the most likes on Instagram, but when this dish arrived, we all quieted down and ate, which is the ultimate compliment to the dish and to the chef. b
Jason Frye is a travel writer and author of Moon North Carolina and Moon NC Coast. He’s a barbecue judge, he rarely naps, and he’s always on the road. Keep up with his travels at tarheeltourist.com.