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What’s In Season?
Callinectes sapidus is the Latin name for blue crab, the species typically used for soft-shells. I’m not sure about the callinectes part, which means “beautiful swimmer,” though the powder-blue claws are sort of pretty. But the sapidus part is indisputable. It means “savory.”
You can start salivating any time now. The critters have begun the summer-growth molting process that rids them of their outgrown hard shell and readies them for another. For about four days in between, before that new shell hardens, they’ve got a frail, tender covering—and we’ve got dinner.
Lucky for us, the country’s molting mecca is right “down the shore,” to borrow a phrase from a Jersey pal. That would be the Chesapeake, the Maryland/Virginia bay whose cool waters nurture the tastiest (read: higher fat content) blue crabs. Once molting begins, the then-designated “peeler” crabs are placed in tanks and monitored until their shells have been shed. They’re then sorted by size, packed in damp seaweed, and shipped off to their date with sauté pans around the region.
Chef Arsenio Flores has his oiled and ready to go. At Eastchester Fish Gourmet (837 White Plains Rd, Scarsdale 914-725-3450; eastchesterfish.com), he prefers the three- to four-inch “hotel-size” crabs over the larger “primes” and mega six-inch “whales.”
“They’re more delicate to handle,” he says, “with better flavor and a softer texture.” A little salt and pepper, a dusting of flour, and quick sauté is all that’s needed, he believes.
“The flavor is so delicate and sweet, you don’t need to do a lot.”
In one dish on his menu, Flores pairs the soft-shells with a balsamic-tinged brown-butter sauce, toasted pine nuts, and micro-greens atop sweet-pea purée. A second preparation, served later in the season, includes sorrels simmered in a cream-and-vermouth reduction.
But you can just whip up a simple lemon-butter sauce at home, or bread and deep-fry your crabs, another preparation Flores likes. Choose live crabs that are soft to the touch, Eastchester Fish owner Rick Ross advises. Have them cleaned at the store, then keep them on ice in the fridge for no more than a day. Easy. And so sapidus.
Grilling The Experts
We asked local pros for their best cookout tips.
Who wants to spend the summer in a hot kitchen? June drives all true chefs outdoors. We asked some local pros—Phil McGrath of the Iron Horse Grill in Pleasantville, Brian MacMenamin of MacMenamin’s Grill & ChefWorks in New Rochelle, and Jonathan Everin of Mount Kisco Seafood—to give us their best grilling advice.
■ Cover up your food. If you truly want to grill something, McGrath says, the cover stays off the grill. “Putting the cover on will roast it, not grill it.”
■ Overdo it with the sauces. If you slather your meat in marinade, it’ll likely drip off and cause a flare-up. MacMenamin recommends that whatever your recipe calls for, use only one-fifth of the amount of marinade recommended. Then, “get a pair of rubber gloves, and really work in the dry ingredients.” The same goes for veggies. McGrath recommends seasoning vegetables with sea salt and fresh pepper, then lightly brushing the grill surface—not the food—with oil.
■ Let your fish stick to the grill. Fish needs to be well oiled, but not with sticky sauces. “Grill the fish, non-skin-side-down, for about four minutes,” Everin says. “Then flip it over, brush it with flavoring, and grill the other side for another four minutes.”
■ Take your time. Let the grill get nice and hot before trying to cook. McGrath says that natural wood chips are the best source of fuel, but if you’re using charcoal, “you want it to be white-hot, not red-hot. That’s the best way to grill something.” A hot grill also keeps fish from sticking. “I’d start with the grill on high, then lower the heat once I turn the fish over,” says Everin.
■ Cut evenly whatever you’re grilling. That ensures that everything will cook at the same time.
// Marisa LaScala
Is there anything better for quenching a summer thirst than cold beer? Well, yes. It’s beer tailored for the season.
No, I am not referring to “light” beer, which is basically lower in carbs, or the classic fallback of Corona with lime (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but beers designed to be lighter in body and alcohol, snappier in carbonation, and yet full of flavor. Summer beers are all about refreshment without heft, and there are numerous options that beckon from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
The key ingredient to special summer brews is wheat, which gives beers a “fluffier” texture and a refreshing citrus edge. Best known of this type is hefeweizen (well-distributed brands include Paulaner and Franziskaner). Domestic seasonal favorites include Anchor Summer Beer, first made in San Francisco in 1984, and Goose Island Summer Ale; both are palpably delicate and crisp.
Some bars keep a summer brew on tap all season; others stock seasonal beers and ales by bottle. At the Tap House (16 Depot Sq, Tuckahoe, 914-337-6941; thetaphouseny.com), the new gastropub, managing partner Chris O’Brien points out that what most people think of as summer beers are really brewed year-round; they just hit the spot more in summertime. The Tap House features more than 10 Belgian and wheat brews, and servers are happy to help you find one to fit your taste or mood. If you’re in the camp that believes hot-weather quenchitization is more about temperature than flavor and body, head over to Finnegan’s Grill (1006 Broadway, Thornwood 914-747-7574; finnegansgrillthornwood.com), where state-of-the-art taps put the frost to the froth. If you are looking to stock up for summer entertaining, one trip to DeCicco Family Markets in Ardsley (21 Center St, 914-813-2009; deciccos.com) or Pelham (43 Fifth Ave, 914-738-1377) provides both a vast selection and good advice to help you navigate it.
No local roundup of summer brews would be complete without mention of Captain Lawrence (99 Castleton St, Pleasantville, 914-741-2337; captain lawrencebrewing.com), the brewing pride and joy of Pleasantville, which just celebrated its second anniversary.
Its “Sun Block” is made in the style of Belgian witbier where the wheat is raw (or unmalted). Check out its site for local watering holes that carry the Captain; or stop by the microbrewery and fill your own “growler”; $12.50 new or $9.50 as a refill. That ought to hold you...through the weekend.
// W. R. Tish
Care to guess the number of jacket-required restaurants in the county?
Too high. It’s three. And they are:
1. La Crémaillère (46 Bedford-Banksville Rd, Bedford 914-234-9647; cremaillere.com). “Our restaurant is rooted in the classics,” says owner Robert Meyzen. “Wearing a jacket helps create a certain visual atmosphere.” For men who arrive without a jacket, the restaurant keeps numerous blue blazers of different sizes at the ready. “If they refuse,” says Meyzen, “we will not turn them away.”
2. Equus (Castle on the Hudson, 400 Benedict Ave, Tarrytown 914-631-3646; castleonthehudson.com). If you don’t want to wear a loaner jacket at this royal restaurant, your only option is to eat in the bar area (where all items from the restaurant’s menu are offered). In the summer months (June through August and sometimes September, depending on the weather), jackets are optional in the main dining area.
3. 42 (The Ritz-Carlton, Westchester, One Renaissance Sq, White Plains 914-761-4242; 42therestaurant.com). Jackets are required in the lower dining room, but not in the upper dining room, bar, or small plates lounge. “We have designed the upper dining room as a more casual space because today not everyone wants to dine while wearing a jacket,” says events coordinator Shafiq Jan. “If a guest visits without a jacket and wants to be seated in our lower dining room, we will provide a jacket for him.”
// John Bruno Turiano