Why Is The Good Stuff So Expensive?

My grandfather used to go to the local butcher and ask for that long chunk of meat from the back of the cow that nobody seemed too interested in. I am sure that the butcher thought that my grandfather was a bit soft in the head, and probably gave him a good price on what we now call Filet Mignon. But that was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Now, of course, the best cuts of beef are outrageously expensive, and the not-so-great cuts aren’t far behind. And that brings us to the topic of the day: soft-shell crabs. I used to buy soft-shells from a fish store on 9th Avenue in New York. And I felt a little bit like my grandfather must have, because they were $1 each, and sometimes even less! In reality, the fish store didn’t have much overhead and had a huge restaurant business, so they could still make money on their retail sales, even though it seemed as if they were giving the stuff away. But all good things come to an end, and the store closed without my getting a last fix of grilled soft-shells.

But I didn’t forget, and would occasionally buy a few for old-time’s sake, even though the prices steadily crept past the $5 mark. Imagine my surprise when I saw the tasty little critters for $6.99. “Outrageous,” you say, and you would be correct. But I looked past the price and noticed that these weren’t little, they were huge. Certainly the biggest soft-shell crabs I had ever seen. I was too starry-eyed to weigh them when I got home (of course I bought them, I am nothing if not driven by my food id), but I would guess that they were at least twice the weight of a typical soft-shell. The fish monger was insistent that grilling was a crime against all that was good and pure, so I dusted them with a bit of flour (after salt and pepper — I am not a savage), and fried them for a few minutes in a hot pan with butter and a few teaspoons of canola oil.

Oh how I wish I could say that these were the greatest soft-shells I have ever tasted, that they transported my taste buds to a place they had never visited. Oh, the rapture! Nope, they weren’t that good, but they were pretty damned good eating. I found them a bit mild, but they were surprisingly juicy without being soggy. Good stuff. And the fish monger was correct, they really were good when fried. Grilling adds a bit too much smokey flavor that can dominate the sweet crab.

In case you have been waiting breathlessly for some point to this rant, I don’t really have one, other than the irritating and expensive fact that sometimes eating well is pricey, and there isn’t much we can do about it, especially if the soft-shells are huge!

4 Replies to “Why Is The Good Stuff So Expensive?”

  1. I agree with the monger…grilling soft shells is a crime. Not only the smoke issue, but often the legs and and the edges of the shell become dry and chewy. Not good. A little butter and oil, maybe some white wine, in the pan. I don’t think the flour is necessary, actually. Your memories remind me of the good old abalone days. Good god.

  2. The flour helped to crisp them. I liked it. And of course it helped to soak up the extra fat from the pan. I wouldn’t want to miss out on a little butter and oil.

    Abalone is a big-flavored beast, and while it doesn’t grill well (I have tried, and failed), it is great almost every other way, although sautéed in butter is the best.

    Good god is correct. I ate far too many abalone without appreciating the fact that they are incredibly hard to find unless you are willing to dive for them yourself. I can’t fit into my wet suit, so that option is out!

  3. I have a friend who insists that abalone is simply the perfect vehicle to deliver sauted butter and garlic into one’s gullet. I tend to agree. And…I never once dove but made sure I had plenty of friends and relatives who did (although I often had to do the cleaning and pounding, sort of a pain in the ass). I need to locate a new connection because it has been at least 15 years since I’ve had a fresh abalone (in fact, if you clean them and immerse the meat in a Zip-loc bag of water and freeze…it will last for up to a year). Go get a bigger wetsuit and get me some goddamn abalone! Or at least go get your shinebox.

  4. It’s tempting, but abalone diving isn’t really that much fun. First of all, it is really, really cold. Second, the visibility is rarely better than a few feet. Third, there is a small but non-zero chance that a great white shark will mistake you for a sea lion and eat you, or at least take a chomp out of your leg and discover that neoprene does not taste as good as sea lion. And last, it is a pain-in-the-ass; lugging the gear, putting it on, taking it off.

    Oh, they don’t have abalone where I live, so I would have to fly to San Francisco, and if I am going to San Francisco, it is to eat and drink, not to exercise.

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