Ode to Soft Shell Crabs (and Melon de Bourgogne?!)
I try to practice gratitude year round for the delicious life I am blessed with, but no time is easier to do so than the month of April when my birthday happens to coincide with soft shell crab season. I realize that for some soft shell crabs are just a little too out there, but for me they have to be one of the most delectable gifts that nature offers.
In case you happen to have missed out on this culinary delight here’s the short story. In the spring blue crabs molt their old exo-skeleton and for a short period of time are truly soft (meaning you can eat the entire crab)! (Now you understand why it’s a bit too much for some folks!)
But getting past the science and to the deliciousness...here in Charleston, soft shells are truly one of those harbingers of spring alongside jasmine, azaleas, first trips to the beach, strawberries, radishes, arugula, my list could go on...it’s truly a lovely time of the year.
And honestly, I try to eat as many soft shell crabs as possible during their short season, which only lasts a few weeks. So it was a blessing indeed when returning from a long and somewhat stressful road trip to find them at our local seafood market. At home I love to simply dust them in flour, pan fry them, and serve them alongside something simple and delicious. In this case, it was a salad straight from our garden with radishes and turnips shaved fine (yes, baby turnips are delicious raw)!
I had not exactly planned this meal and really had no wine in mind, but I found a bottle tucked away on my wine rack that somehow kept getting overlooked -- Melon de Bourgogne from Jolie-Laide in California. Wine nerds might know that Melon de Bourgogne is the grape of the famed Muscadet region of the Loire Valley (in France). It is known for being mineral driven and perfect with seafood, and honestly it is rarely seen outside of that region. But leave it to California up and coming winemaker Scottt Schultz to make an outstanding one! Schultz moved to Napa from Chicago in 2007 and headed up the wine program at Thomas Keller’s acclaimed Bouchon restaurant in Yountville. There, he realized that he really wanted to be on the production side of things and began working for several highly regarded wineries (Arnot Roberts to name one)! Next, he went out on his own to make miniscule amounts of wine that are very much handmade. Rather than focus on consumer darlings (like Cabernet and Chardonnay) he chooses to focus on wine nerd favorites like Gamay, Valdiguie, and this Melon de Bourgogne.
I have always loved the Jolie-Laide wines (by the way that means “pretty-ugly” – a French term for those things in life that can indeed be both pretty and ugly)! But I honestly had my trepidations about new world Melon de Bourgogne. The Muscadet region is just such a magical spot for the grape that I feared anywhere else might not live up to my Melon infatuation.
But that’s what casual dinners after long road trips are for...a time to break out something with no expectations and no pressure. And guess what...it was fabulous...plenty of the minerality and salinity I associate with Melon from Muscadet but also some very pretty new world fruit flair! Think fresh squeezed lemonade with a dash of sea salt. And it worked like a charm with the soft shell crabs! Like its old world counterpart it provided enough acidity to make a squeeze of lemon on the crabs totally unnecessary.
P.S. For those of you wanting to nerd out a bit more: this Melon comes from the Rodnick Farm (formerly Antle Vineyard) in the Chalone AVA (central coast California). Schultz describes it as, “a dramatic high desert site in the Gabilan Mountains neighboring Pinnacles National Park. South facing slope, 1800 ft elevation overlooking Monterey with moderating coastal influence. Situated just beneath an extinct volcano with decomposed granite and limestone soils.” Ok so there’s our acidity and minerality!