Fried Soft-Shells

(May 28, 2021) Free will is the ability to choose among alternatives or to act in certain situations independently of natural, social, or divine restraints.

Let us never forget this right, and continue to strive for its eternal existence.

This privilege has never been more apparent than when one crosses the threshold of culinary endeavors.

Maybe, this is one reason taco bars are so popular. Guests are given the opportunity to freely choose and build their favorite taco.

But before one can host and construct such a feast, they must understand the basic concept of a taco.

History is the quintessence of the future. The taco is a staple of Mexican cuisine, so it might be surprising to learn that tacos do not have a long history. Believe it or not, there is no exact history of where or when they came about.

According to the History of Tacos, Jeffrey M. Pilcher, professor of history at the University of Minnesota, has researched Mexican cuisine extensively and believes the origin of tacos started in Mexican silver mines.

The first type of taco was “taco de minero,” which means miner’s taco. It is believed that the word taco originally referred to the pieces of paper that miners would wrap around gunpowder as they blasted their way looking for silver.

This interpretation has gained popularity and is representative of a taco’s fiery component.

Tacos were considered a low-class street food and made their way to the U.S. by migrants traveling to Los Angeles in 1900s. Much has changed and tacos can be found on posh menus across the country.

Let us deconstruct a taco for complete comprehension.

A good tortilla is pliable, warm and tastes like corn; although many Americans prefer a flour tortilla.

Salsa is the soul of tacos and will either make or break your dish. Bottled salsas cannot possibly compete with fresh veggie and herbs.

Do not be afraid to think out of the box. That being said, the salsa must compliment the type of protein being used.

Guacamole is not a requirement for tacos but it can add fattiness and texture. Remember, it is your personal preference when building a taco.

Many home cooks tend to over-cheese their tacos. I must confess I love cheese and am guilty of this crime. Crumbles of queso fresco instead of shredded jack and sharp cheese can add authenticity, beautification and cool the spiciness of your salsa.

Contrast of texture is imperative for a great taco. Thinly sliced cabbage, onions and radishes are popular choices and easy on one’s budget. Pickling the veggies is another way to add acidity.

Protein or no protein is literally in the hands of the beholder. Grilled meats, braised meats, seafood, or vegan are all acceptable and delicious possibilities.

Taco bars are fun and eliminates the stress of timing. It is best to serve two different proteins.

Offer plenty of toppings, it makes your buffet more interesting and is more pleasing to the eye. Do not forget about the sides, they are just as important as the main course.

A pitcher of sangria pairs deliciously with the theme of the day. I like to serve red and white sangria. Again, it is about choices.

The Eastern Shore is notorious for its seafood. If time is a factor and a buffet is not an option, how about sinking your teeth into a fried soft-shell taco? Uniqueness keeps company coming back for more. Enjoy!

Chipotle Mayo Dressing

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup sour cream

3 chipotles in adobo, plus 4 tablespoons adobe sauce

1 squeeze fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

kosher salt to taste

1. In a medium bowl, mix ingredients until blended. Set aside.

Slaw

½ head of small green cabbage

½ head of small red cabbage

1 small sweet onion

1. Using a mandoline, slice the cabbage and onions paper thin.

2. Lightly dress the slaw with the chipotle mayo dressing. Do not dress the cabbage mixture until ready to serve.

Tortillas

8 small flour or corn tortillas

4 tablespoons canola oil

1. In a large cast-iron skillet, heat oil to medium. Sauté 4 tortillas briefly. You just want to get a slight color and warm them. Remove and finish the remaining 4 tortillas. Or, you can toast them in the oven at 325 degrees.

Fried Soft-Shells

8 soft-shell crabs, cleaned, and rinsed in cold water

1 egg

1 cup milk

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

4 cups canola oil for frying

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Heat oil and butter in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat.

2. In a shallow dish, whisk the egg and milk together. Place flour in a pie dish.

3. Carefully dip the soft-shells in the egg mixture and then coat with flour.

4. Lower crabs, one at a time, in the hot oil mixture. Do not overcrowd the pan.

Sauté for approximately 3 minutes or until golden brown. Turn the crabs over and cook for another 2 ½ minutes. Remove the soft-shells and place on a cooling rack. Continue cooking the remaining crabs. While the soft-shells are hot and resting, season with salt and pepper.

Presentation

Place tortilla on a plate. Add chipotle mayo slaw. Top with soft-shell and garnish with fresh cilantro.

Makes 8 soft-shell tacos

Secret Ingredient – Choice. “The ability to have a choice in what you do is a privilege.”

– Anton Yelchin

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