It is well known that oysters are in season during months with an ‘r’ in them. Yet even in the summer months—when there are no r’s to be found, some oysters continue to be available, thanks to advancements in aquaculture.
Besides oysters, there are so many delicious, local seafood items available in summer , making it hard to choose. And as close as we are to the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay, not taking advantage of these delicious delicacies might as well be a crime—unless you’re allergic, in which case you get a “Get out of jail free” card.
When I talk to people about seafood and cooking it at home, many say they’re a little intimidated by preparing raw seafood. In fact, seafood can be some of the easiest food to prepare. The ocean and bays impart so much flavor that preparation should be kept simple and low key. Always make sure you’re purchasing your seafood from trusted local retailers. If they can’t answer the questions “Where did this come from?” or “When did this come out of the water?” then you probably don’t want to buy it.
Fortunately for us there are many local seafood retailers in Hampton Roads who can answer both of those questions with confidence. H M Terry Company and Cherrystone Aqua Farms on the Eastern Shore sell clams and oysters to restaurants all over the region, but if you’re looking to buy on a smaller scale Dodson and Daughters Old Town Seafood on the Eastern Shore has fresh bay clams available year round and sells their products on Saturday at the Old Beach Farmers Market. Edric Cason Seafood in the Munden Point area of southern Virginia Beach takes special orders and even delivers to customers in their area.
Shellfish Company next door to Bubba’s on Shore Drive has some of the freshest fish off the boats you can find as well as crabs, shrimp, clams, and oysters. So does Uncle Chuck at the Virginia Beach Farmers Market, whose stand is open Thursday through Sundays. Finally for you Norfolk folks, Welton’s Seafood Market in Ghent on 20th street is the best place to get today’s fresh catch and some recommendations for what to do with it.
So now that you know where to go, what do you get and what do you do with it? My favorite summer seafood dish is blue crabs. Soft or hard shelled, these short-season treats are quintessentially summer for me. I grew up in a crabbing family and often had crabs that had been pulled out of the water by my uncle before being cleaned, steamed and eaten within a few hours. Cooking these guys is as easy as it gets (see below). And if you you’re not a fan of cracking crabs all night, a great recipe for soft shell crabs follows. Soft shells are available for an even shorter window of time during the summer. They are crabs that have shed their hard outer shells in order to grow into new, larger shells. During this time they can be prepared and eaten whole—no cracking required! Truly a local delicacy.
And for those of you who would rather deal with something that can’t pinch you while you’re trying to prepare it, go to TW’s website, where you’ll find a recipe for my summer shrimp ceviche. Just click on Food and then In Season. This delectable recipe uses cooked shrimp and seasonal summer ingredients to make a fresh, bright dish that’s perfect on a hot summer night.
Summer is here—enjoy all the fun and flavor it brings with it!
Bushel of bay crabs
1 cup Old Bay
apple cider vinegar
Heat one part water and one part apple cider vinegar in a large “crab pot” to a rolling boil. Put in your steamer insert, add live blue crabs, season liberally with Old Bay Seasoning, and steam them until they are bright orange, about 20 minutes. Remove from pot and sprinkle with remaining Old Bay. Eat them on a newspaper-lined table with extra apple cider vinegar for dipping, preferably outside on a nice summer evening.
Soft-Shell Crabs With Tarragon Dijon-Cream Sauce
8 soft-shell crabs, dressed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 cups flour
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup course grain mustard
2 teaspoons fresh tarragon, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 green onion leaves, chopped
1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
Prick legs and claws of crab with tines of a fork. Season crabs with salt and pepper. Then dredge in flour and shake off excess.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the oil and butter and, once butter melts, place crabs, a few at a time as not to crowd, back-side down. Cook about 2-3 minutes, or until golden, turn, and cook the other side another 2-3 minutes, or until golden.
In a medium saucepan, combine cream and mustard and heat over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes or until warmed. Add salt, pepper, and tarragon and stir to incorporate. Drizzle over crabs. Garnish with chopped green onion and parsley.
Soft shell recipe courtesy Patrick Evans-Hylton, a Johnson & Wales-trained chef, food authority on Chesapeake Bay regional cuisine, and author of the upcoming book, “Dishing Up Virginia.” His work appears in print, television, and radio. Read more of his adventures at food at www.PatrickEvansHylton.com
Rachel Burns is the owner at The Content Chop Shop, a small shop providing content marketing services to small businesses, designers and nonprofits. She is also the co-owner of Burn Both Ends, which develops and presents educational opportunities and resources for small businesses looking to grow. She is a local to Hampton Roads and a vocal spokesperson for all its myriad advantages, her favorites of which is the Atlantic Ocean. She has been published in The Virginian Pilot, Tidewater Women, and AltDaily, among others. She lives in the Hickory section of Chesapeake with her husband, two pugs and several feral cats.