Edna Lewis, who died in 2006, was revered as the first lady of Southern cooking. Born in 1916 in the rural farming community of Freetown, Virginia, she lived for many years in New York City, where she came to acclaim as a professional cook and author. Her elegant and to-the-point recipes and writing, such as in her 1988 classic cookbook In Pursuit of Flavor, humbly acknowledged her deep experience with Southern ingredients. Knopf recently re-released In Pursuit of Flavor, which shares many of Lewis’s secrets for achieving flavors that make readers homesick for their first tastes of the South.
In the book, Lewis shares helpful advice for prepping a coastal Southern delicacy: soft-shell crabs. “The soft-shell crabs, most available in the spring, are just about the most delicious shellfish you can cook. The preparation is simple and the crabs take very little time to cook. If you are cleaning them yourself, take them home alive and prepare them by cutting off their mouths, lifting up the shells, and removing the spongy-looking gills,” she wrote. “Rinse the crabs briefly but well under cold water. You want to be careful not to soak them or you might rinse away their flavor. You can ask the fishmonger to clean them for you but be sure they are alive when you buy them. Be sure to cook them soon after you get home as they are quite fragile. Serve them with a side dish of plain rice and a crusty bread.”