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May 17, 2000 11:08 AM

Soft-Shelled Crabs at NY Noodletown

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Two days in a row, I had wonderful salt-baked softshells at NY Noodletown, mutant-sized monsters cooked just to that point of perfectly balanced crispness, moistness, and sweetness. The salt-baked assortment was pretty nifty too, especially the scallops, as were the trendy but nonetheless delicious pea shoots.

I almost posted this message on "The Best... (NY)" board. It's tough to choose between these and French-style, sauteed in brown butter, but then again, why choose?

BTW, does anyone (Julie, are you out there?) know why these are called "salt-baked," when they're pretty evidently deep-fried?

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  1. j
    Jessica Shatan

    Where oh where is NY Noodletown???

    Also, what is the official season for soft-shell crabs???

    Re: salt-baked. There is some kind of cooking process where you pack the item (meat, fish, potatoes) in salt, like cover it, then I think you bake it and when it's done you break all the salt off, and apparently the food isn't overly salty after either. Not sure how this is supposed to be so good, maybe keeps flavor and moisture in without steaming it? (Like if you wrap a potato or piece of fish in foil you are essentially steaming it) SO! Maybe they salt-bake them then fry???
    Anybody wanna help us out here???

    16 Replies
    1. re: Jessica Shatan

      "Where oh where is NY Noodletown???"

      28 Bowery, corner of Bayard. Go early or late, or be prepared to wait (a bit).

      "Also, what is the official season for soft-shell crabs???"

      I recall that it used to be about late May through July, but this year I had them several weeks earlier, and last year they seemed to be around all through the summer (and a friend had them in North Carolina through November). Perhaps some dastardly capitalist has synthesized crab shedding hormone.

      "Re: salt-baked."

      Your description sounds a bit like Chinese beggar's chicken, which I thought used clay. The crabs in question appear to be dusted with salt and cornstarch, and rapidly deep-fried; the dispatch with which they arrive at table also suggests no more complex a preparation.

      So it's not Shatan as in rattan or Satan?

      1. re: AHR
        Dan Silverman

        Salt Baked SS Crabs @ Noodletown...

        Like all of the "salt baked" items on the menu, the crabs are dipped in cornstarch and then deep fried. From the fryer the go into a hot wok with salt and sliced chilies. From there they go on a plate with shredded lettuce and served for your pleasure...

        1. re: Dan Silverman
          cinnamongrill (who can't keep here mouth shut today)

          Hi again, Jessica! I just looked through a couple of cookbooks, trying to find out when ssc season is. Even "Joy of Cooking" doesn't know! I saw them in my local fish store around May 1, maybe even earlier. I'll ask my crab expert. About salt-baked stuff: there's a recipe for salt-baked chicken on the back of the kosher salt box. It looks ok, but i think it's just there so you have to use a lot of salt. Have you heard about beer-can chicken, where you prop a whole chicken up on a can of beer (or 7-Up or whatever-in-a-can) and bake it? That, too, is supposed to come out very moist and infused with whatever the flavor of the can-liquid is.

          1. re: cinnamongrill (who can't keep here mouth shut today)

            We had a thread on this last year - see attached - im too lazy to repeat myself or to link the a purveyor site.

            that rendition of salt baked chicken you are talking about (burying the item in kosher salt) - is way different from the chinese dishes called salt baked - I think salt baked squid is one of the great gifts of the chinese kitchen to all of us, and salt baked chicken is close behind.


            1. re: cinnamongrill (who can't keep here mouth shut today)

              Speaking of that kosher salt box chicken recipe. You simply must try it. You will never roast chicken the same way again. It works on the grill also, as long as you have one of those 'uppper' racks. Amazing, moist, with paper crackly skin -- it just don't get much better than that! I read somewhere that "you bake a cake at 350 degrees, but if you want real roast chicken -- or any meat for that matter -- you rocket your oven to 450." It has never failed me.

              1. re: lydia

                Ok, Lydia! Now that i've been dared, i'll have to do that recipe. Usually i cook chicken at 400 d., but i'll try 450 next time. Say, you sound like a likely candidate for NY Serial Diner membership. We're having our first meeting at 6 pm this Wed. (5-24) and will hook up at the SW corner of E. 60th and Second Ave. (See my NYSD messages above)The idea is to eat our way through the Yellow Pages alphabetically, but we'll prob. end up at China Fun (E. 63) this time. See ya?

                1. re: cinnamongrill
                  The Punctuation Police

                  Your lower-case pronouns may be an intentional affectation, but the following crosses the line:

                  (See my NYSD messages above)The idea is to eat our"

                  1. re: The Punctuation Police
                    The Grammar Police

                    I propose that we confiscate cinnamongrill's exclamation marks until she completes Adverb Rehab.

                    I cite the following offenses:

                    "they need a proofreader bad"
                    "the menu was excellently spelled"

                    1. re: The Grammar Police

                      Warning: All chowhounders who are totally uninterested in reviewing 8th-grade English should immediately stop reading this message!!! *** Ha ha. Lower case "i"s and the "needs a proofreader bad" remark was intentional. I'm aware it should be "badly" and used "bad" for effect (hope i spelled that correctly!!). What was wrong with "The menu was excellently spelled"? Should it have been "...spelled excellently"? If so, why? Finally, the quibble from Punc. Pol. is unclear to me. How was "eat our way" wrong? Ok. Maybe it should've been "eat our ways". Was that it? Gram. Pol. & Punc. Pol., you sound like possible nicksippers (NYCSP -- NYC Spelling Police -- all other sps are fake). All nicksippers are welcome to attend the first SDNY (Serial Diners of NY -- pronounced "Sidney") meeting on the SW corner of E. 60 St. & Second Ave. tonight (Wed., 5-24) at 6 pm. Did i mention the free glasses of water?

                      1. re: cinnamongrill/sdny/nicksip

                        Alright already. Both of you!!! I thought I was going to be reading something good about salt-baked crabs and instead I get something like one of those julie-tirades. Save it for e-mail.

                        1. re: Heidi

                          OK. Do you happen to know when soft-shell crab season is?

                    2. re: The Punctuation Police
                      The Punctuation Police

                      Jeez, that's:

                      "(See my NYSD messages above)The idea is to eat our"

                      1. re: The Punctuation Police

                        Oh, do you mean i left out the period after "above"? Ok. Here it is: . :)

            2. re: AHR

              About three weeks ago, I had a bunch of perfectly delicious soft shells at NY Noodletown. The tops of the shells however, were noticeably thickening, portending the end of the season.

              Has anyone else had a more recent experience? Recommendations?

              BTW, NYN's pea shoots with roast duck is a mighty dish, if varying in composition from day-to-day (or chef-to-chef).

              1. re: AHR

                The season is over at this point. Frozen
                soft shells are widely used off season (and
                with surprisingly good results). The high
                season for soft shell crabs ends is late August or
                early September at the very latest. I'm wondering
                if what you had were fresh or frozen. If fresh with
                a noticeably thicker-than-usual shell, the crabs
                might have been held in a tank for a while before
                bringing them to market. The shell begins to
                harden the moment they molt so the longer they
                are held the thicker it would be.

                1. re: christina z

                  So far as I know, NY Noodletown serves only whale-size crabs, and only when fresh ones are available. Interestingly, a friend who winters in North Carolina claims that he had 'em live last year well into November, whether due to freakish nature, crab hormone injections, or irradiation I couldn't say.

                  Any further fresh local softshell sightings will be greatly appreciated...

          2. You made my day writing about the soft-shelled crabs at husband and I make sure we get there often, usually around 3 a.m. when we're headed back to NJ. We've been talking these crabs up to everyone we know -- just lovely. They run out pretty early, sometimes around 10 p.m., so if you miss them, go for anything with flowering chives, and you're right, anything salt-baked is gooooood. Can't go wrong with their soups either...

            1 Reply
            1. re: lydia

              Had ‘em again the other day – just as good!

              I also had softshells for lunch at Les Halles last week, and my experience differed somewhat from Jim’s (as reported in “What Jim Had for Dinner”). No loud music was evident, the floor staff, greeters included, couldn’t have been friendlier or more helpful, but the crabs, themselves a bit soggy, were served with an overpoweringly tart lemon sauce. A recent graduate of “Kitchen Confidential” might suspect the sauce to be camouflage for impristine shellfish, but the crabs would then have been served immersed in it, which they weren’t. In fact, the presentation exactly followed the book’s suggestion for making food vertical: a cylinder of mashed potatoes, surmounted by neatly arranged asparagus, surmounted by crabs, surrounded by the sauce moat. The asparagus and mashed were a comforting, homey combination; likewise, the sauce made a brisk foil for the mashed, but viewed thus, the crabs were more like a garnish. The breads were soggy on this rainy day, though the fish soup was splendid. The steak frites remains reliable.

              The crab saga continues. Next up: Le Jardin.