8 asparagus stalks with tight, firm heads (about 6 ounces)
1 large ripe tomato (about 12 ounces)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup chopped red onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
4 large soft-shell crabs (about 1 1/2 pounds)


1. Peel the lower third of the asparagus stalks, and cut each stalk in half crosswise. (Each half will be about 3 inches long.) Then cut each half lengthwise into four to six strips.
2. Using a sharp vegetable peeler, peel the tomato, cut it in half, and seed it. Cut the tomato flesh into 1/2-inch pieces. (You should have about 1 1/2 cups.)
3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter until hot in a skillet. Add the onion, and saut» for 1 minute over high heat. Add the asparagus, 3/4 teaspoon of the salt, 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper. Bring the mixture to a strong boil, and cook it, covered, for 1 minute. (Most of the water will have evaporated at this point.) Transfer to a bowl, and set aside.
4. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in the unwashed skillet. When it is hot, add the tomato pieces, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, the garlic, and the tarragon. Saut» over high heat for about 45 seconds, just long enough to warm and slightly soften the tomato. Transfer to a bowl, and set aside.
5. Clean the crabs, and pat them dry with paper towels.
6. Heat the remaining tablespoon each of butter and oil in the skillet. When they are hot, add the crabs in one layer, and cook them over high heat for about 2 minutes on each side.
7. To serve, divide the asparagus among four plates, and arrange one crab on top of the asparagus in the middle of each plate. Spoon the tomatoes on top of and around the crabs. Pour any juices that may have accumulated in the skillet on top of the crabs. Serve immediately.
Jacques P»pin recommends buying your soft-shell crabs from a reliable fishmonger. The crabs are good for only 2 to 3 days after they have shed their hard shell, and the closer you consume them to the moment after their shedding, the softer and more flavorful they are.
Saut»ed Soft-Shell Crabs
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