Are you ready? I hope so, because today’s post is filled with all kinds of delicious goodness. Some of my all-time favorites… An incredibly tasty cocktail. A truly special spring delicacy, soft-shell crab (made even more special by dressing it up as a BLT). Two of my favorite go-to salads (seriously, I make both of them, all the time). And what is possibly my most absolute favorite dessert ever, anywhere – strawberry shortcake.
Knowing that dinner itself was going to be exceptionally awesome, I didn’t want us to spoil our appetites with hors d’oeuvres or appetizers. And that’s how this lovely-sounding cucumber-lime-mint cocktail came into the picture. (Oh yeah, along with me and Ben, the owners of these aforementioned appetites were none other than our favorite neighbors, and your favorite S.C. regulars, Downstairs Matt & Sarah.)
And how truly lovely this cocktail turned out to be. Smooth, cool cucumber juice, an even chillier zing of fresh mint, and a tart, citrusy surge of lime juice. The flavors are so clean, so refreshing. Invigorating even. Like a nourishing elixir of cool serenity. Ignoring the vodka (which is pretty easy to do – Its bitter bite all but vanishes in the cool green juice), it could be way too easy to convince yourself that it was healthy even, actually good for you. Deliciously good for you. Wow, these I think could be dangerous!
A quick tutorial: ‘Soft-shell’ refers to a crab (in particular, a variety called Blue crab) that has just recently undergone the molting process. As with all crustaceans, a crab’s shell doesn’t grow. As the crab itself gets bigger and bigger, its hard outer shell stays the same size. At a certain point, the fit becomes too snug, so the crab sheds its shell in a process called molting, and then begins to grows another one. In the meantime though, the crab remains shell-less. Which is great news for us. Because, for a few short days after molting, before it has a chance to harden up its shell, we can eat the crab whole, soft shell and all. Cool, right?!
Molting is a pretty seasonal thing, so you’re way more likely to find soft-shell crabs in the spring. Actually, right about now is the perfect time. And they won’t be around for much longer. So get ‘em quick! To me at least, this limited-time availability only adds to the coolness of soft-shell crabs. I never eat more than probably one a year. So any day I do, automatically seems like a holiday.
You don’t have to do much to soft-shell crabs. They’re pretty glorious all on their own. But I’ve always been pretty fond of having them as sandwiches. It’s a sentimental thing. Always reminds me of this one perfect Saturday afternoon, not too long after Ben and I met, in a quaint little New York town whose name I can’t remember. After experiencing unusually good luck at a library book sale, and before taking a sunny drive home through hilly upstate, we happened upon a little fish market with a chalkboard out front reading “we have soft-shells”. I pulled Ben inside (it was his first ever soft-shell crab, so he couldn’t yet understand the excitement) and we ordered two sandwiches. What we got couldn’t have been simpler. Fried soft-shells on sliced white burger buns with mayo and shredded lettuce, served in a paper baskets. Nothing fancy about it, but oh my goodness, we were in heaven. And every year since then, we’ve made sure to get our hands on soft-shell crab sandwiches.
This year’s sandwich was slightly more involved than this first one. But just slightly. To the mayo and lettuce we added slices of ripe, red tomatoes and bacon. And oh yes, the bun was buttered and toasted. Altogether though, still pretty simple. Still completely heaven. But maybe even just a little bit better.
As I said above, the salads I served this night were two of my all-time favorite standby sides. I can’t count the number of times I’ve made them. Both are pretty quick and simple to whip up. Plus, they’re delicious and pretty, and have just a touch of that special something that sets them aside from your average salad. The first is nothing more than crunchy endive and creamy avocado, brought together by an all too easy lemon vinaigrette. The second may take a little extra effort, but just a little. And the combination of the earthy golden beets, sweet green beans, tangy goat cheese and herb-flecked dressing makes it all worth the extra minutes of kitchen work. The end result would even be worth a few hours of hard work, if you ask me.
Now for the grand finale, the strawberry shortcake. I found some of the season’s first local strawberries at the farmers market that morning. So juicy and small and sweet and red, they’re like a completely different species from the strawberries you find year-round in the grocery store. I made a fresh and simple sauce by tossing sliced strawberries with a touch of sugar. As the mixture sits a room temperature, the berries let off their juices and create their own sweet, sticky sauce. The biscuit recipe is another one of my favorite standbys, from an old copy of Cook’s Illustrated. Tried and true over and again, this gives me perfect biscuits every time, flaky and buttery, tops glistening with sugar. Pulled in half, and topped with the strawberries, they soak up the juice, becoming deliciously soggy. The final touch, whipped cream. Need I say more?! Really, strawberry shortcake is pure, utter perfection. And on this particular night, it was so incredibly good, I made more of it the next night too. And we at it – just it – for dinner. Mmmm, now that I think of it, maybe I’ll do that again tonight!