If you head to downtown Los Angeles, just past the vast complex that it LA Live, to the newly opened Ritz-Carlton, and press the elevator button for WP24 and the 24th floor, you will come to a restaurant that is not only Wolfgang Puck's latest — how many? “18 restaurants,” said Puck recently, “a lot of cafes, I don't know how many” — but is about as close as you can get to a revolving restaurant without it actually moving. The 270 degree view of the city is breathtaking: you can see all the way to the smoke stacks of Long Beach from one side, the Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood sign on the other. The food can be pretty panoramic too, at least in terms of Puck's long culinary career. The menu is Chinese, by way of Chinois on Main, Lee Hefter's palate, and what WP24 executive chef David McIntyre has recently found at the markets.
This recipe, for soft-shell crab tempura with fried spinach, is fitting, not only because soft-shell crabs are now in season — their season runs from April to late June — but also because the dish was originally on the menu at Chinois, the Santa Monica restaurant Puck opened 27 years ago and the culinary precursor to WP24. McIntyre, a veteran of Spago, says that he's using Maryland blue crabs right now (“they're just sweeter”), and that the dish can be made as an appetizer or a main dish, depending on whether or not you cut the crabs in half.
Turn the page for the recipe, and read our 2-part interview with Wolfgang Puck here.
Soft-shell crab tempura with cilantro
From: Wolfgang Puck, Adventures in the Kitchen.
4 large soft-shell crabs
1 large or 2 small jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced
leaves of 4 or 5 sprigs of cilantro, chopped
juice of 2 medium limes
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1-1/4 cups water
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped fine
peanut oil for frying
1 bunch spinach, leaves only
1. Prepare the crab: remove the lungs and tail and arrange the crab on a large platter. Sprinkle with the minced jalapeño and the chopped cilantro. Pour the lime juice over and let marinate for at least 30 minutes, refrigerated. When ready to cook, season lightly with salt.
2. Prepare the batter: in a small bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Whisk in the water until the batter is smooth, then add the remaining ingredients, seasoning with cayenne and salt to taste. If made earlier in the day, set the bowl into an ice bath.
3. At serving time, in a deep, heavy saucepan, wok, or deep-fat fryer, heat 3 inches of oil to 350 degrees F.
4. Dip each crab into the batter and coat well. Carefully place one or two in the hot oil and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon or a flat strainer and drain on paper or clean toweling. Keep warm while preparing the remaining crab and the spinach.
5. To make the fried spinach leaves: clean the spinach leaves well, trim and dry thoroughly. In the same oil, fry the spinach until crisp and translucent, about 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on clean toweling and season lightly with salt.
6. Presentation: arrange a few fried spinach leaves on half of each of 4 plates. Place 1 crab on the other half and serve immediately.