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Crab gate; The fall of an American icon: the waterman.

Crisfield Maryland, population 2,880. They work in eight-hour shifts, seven days a week, They fight the weather, the sea nettles, and those pesky jellyfish that work their way into the crabpots and can sting--hard. And now the watermen have even more to contend with. Recent governmental regulations, the emergence of early crabs in Florida, and the availability of soft-shell overseas, are taking the men and women who work the waters of the Chesapeake Bay out of the water and putting them out of business.

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5:30a.m. Somers Cove Marina: This is a large protected harbor at the southern tip of Maryland's Eastern shore. It's located halfway between Baltimore, Maryland, and Norfolk, Virginia, and offers immediate access to Tangier Island and Pocomoke Sound. This is where watermen have fished for years.

It's also where you'll find crabber Russell Morgan. He skillfully works the Chesapeake with his mate ... if that person decides to show up. Morgan's been a crabber since he was 16 years old--as long as he can remember. It's in his genes--both his father and grandfather were crabbers. This is not at all an uncommon occupation in Crisfield, where crab is king. But the trade has changed. The once bountiful Chesapeake blue crab harvest has been depleted due to fluctuating economic and environmental conditions. Watermen have dealt with the changing weather and tides for decades. But they haven't had to wrangle with the former onus, steep regulations imposed on Maryland and Virginia watermen.

Mr. Morgan plays a guessing game with me over the phone. I'm asked how much money he nets for "a dozen mediums, a dozen hotels and a dozen primes." I guess high. We're talking about soft-shells after all, the same delicacy offered on the best menus in Manhattan. I'm shocked at what Morgan reveals. Respectively, four, six and twelve bucks.

"Basically, we go in the hole every time we take the boat out." An inevitable losing proposition.

Labor Day weekend, downtown Crisfield: Population over 10,000. These folks like their crab. No, they love their crab. Enough to devote more than one three-day weekend to the crustacean. I've called the Crisfield Area Chamber of Commerce for some preliminary information on crabbing. I'm told by Ms. Valerie Mason, if I plan on visiting Crisfield that this is a big weekend for the town, the crab festival. I'm instructed "not to miss the crab derby."

Crab derby? I wasn't fortunate to attend the festivities, but am sent the September 3 Crisfield Times that sums it up: 50 crabs race against one another in three heats. The headline reads, "Crab Derby goes international." When Russell Morgan and I chat again, he fills me in on what else I missed: a boat tying race, crab cook-out and other shenanigans. Crisfield even crowned this year's 'Ms. Crustacean.' (Don't forget to read the jump from page one. All the gal's photos are on page four.)

But the crab fisherman aren't laughing. 2003 was a miserable year in terms of a bountiful--and profitable soft-shell crab harvest. As for the future, it doesn't look promising. Already, Maryland crab picking houses say regulations have cost them 80 percent of their business.

Crab Bag--A fisherman never knows what he might net on any given day.

"You can tell the crabs by their back fin. The crab has a mark/color to it and in the color, we see how to rank them. We separate the crab into baskets--pink, red and white. The white tells us that there are about seven days before the crab sheds. The pink indicates two to three days, and the red, "the hottest" means the crab is getting ready to do its thing." If you don't get the crab out of the salt water in eight hours, the shell gets hard again."

Morgan speaks easy, but his job is anything but. Evaluating "peelers" (the name for a blue crab that is ready to shed its shell) or "busters" (crabs that are ready to bust out of their shells) is complex and labor intensive. The supply of soft crabs depends upon the ability of commercial fishermen to catch and recognize the crabs nearing the molting stage.

Commercial fisherman catch the peelers molting in the shallow waters and eel grass using trotlines. More commonly used are floating crab pots made of galvanized chicken wire--up to 300 set at a time. Once caught, the crabs are placed in pens and checked every three hours. Watermen catch hard crabs and keep them in shedding floats until they begin to lose their shell. Because a hard crab will kill and eat a soft crab, the shedding tanks must be carefully watched 'round the clock and the shedding crabs removed to another tank. An hour or so after it has shed its shell, the crab must be removed from the saltwater altogether or it will harden again. Part of a crabber's livelihood is all in his timing.

It's recommended busters be immediately placed in a separate crate filled with evergreen branches (usually wax myrtle). The branches shade, cool and cushion the crabs and prevent their points from poking holes in other crabs--and mimics their natural habitat. They also calm and prevent them from pinching each other. A crab with even a small hole in its shell usually will not shed successfully.

When the buster crate is full, it should be covered with wet burlap sack material and placed out of the wind and sun. The sooner the crabs are placed in the system, the better. Efficient, careful handling makes the difference between a 50 and 90 percent shedding rate.

The beauty of the soft-shell is that they are almost all edible, apart from the eyes, mouth, gill and apron. Even more attractive (if this can be construed as such) is that the crabs stop eating three days prior to molting, which means their digestive tract is empty. In other words, this is one clean crustacean!

Rules, regulations and other gobbledygook

In question is how the price of soft-shell is determined. Pricing the delicacy is completely arbitrary as it is determined weekly. According to more than one commercial crabber, it can be considered "capricious." Mr. Morgan tells me, "I tack the crabs, grade them and place them in different traps before taking them to the processing plant. I don't know how much I'll get paid until Friday comes around."

That's just one hazy domain. There are more. Maryland and Virginia both agreed to reduce crab harvests by 15 percent over a three-year period. The reduction is designed to protect the future of the crab. But these regulations only add to the dizzying list of stipulations.

Virginia crabbers can no longer work on Wednesdays in June, July and August. That's in addition to the ban on working hard crab traps on Sundays. Crabbers must also take off one day--a Sunday or Monday. And the season ends early, in October--they no longer can crab in November. Morgan tells me in Crisfield when the fireworks are shot off, crab season is officially over.

There are also size regulations to contend with. Commercial crabbers have plenty to crab about, and many of those concerns are posed on the Blue Crab Discussion and Forum, a website devoted to discussion. (www.blue-crab.org)

Apart from the tougher governmental regulations, the watermen of the Chesapeake have competition. Crabs are coming in from Asia and imported soft-shell is difficult to distinguish between mid-Atlantic crabs. The new import is troubling. Asia offers a yearround supply of mangrove crabs (that live in warm water and molt year round) that are indistinguishable from blue. But also unsettling for mid-Atlantic watermen is the appearance of early crabs in Florida. Their emergence has a domino effect on pricing as the crab makes its way up the coast.

Don Jackson of the Florida Sea Grant project thinks Florida's commercial crab industry has potential for even more growth. Jackson says that water temperatures here warm up earlier than in the Chesapeake Bay region. Florida crabbers can bring their soft-shell crabs to market as much as two or three months sooner than their Northern counterparts.

All of these factors leave little room for error on the waterman's end. And everyday concerns are just as--if not more--compelling. When a crab boat breaks down (a regular occurrence) and a tow is needed, the day is a loss while the rig is repaired. And crab pots are not free from problems either. A fisherman constantly is repairing--or making new pots.

No one is talking

These latter snarls are best left out of the hands of a writer, but in need of inquiry is why the price of soft-shell is determined on a weekly basis. My conversation with Russell Morgan was enlightening, but disturbing.

Who better to talk to then the Maryland Department of Agriculture? I began by calling Noreen Eberly, Director of the seafood marketing program and aquaculture for the Maryland Department of State Agriculture. I asked Ms. Eberly exactly that: "How is the price of soft-shell crab determined each week?" I wanted some answers. Ms. Eberly was unable to help saying, "You've called the wrong department."

I was told to call the Department of Natural Resources for the State of Maryland, apparently the right department. They had no comment on the issue, suggesting I call the Department of Agriculture. I was assured they would be able to answer my questions. The office of the Secretary of Agriculture referred me back to my original source, Noreen Eberly. Seems no one is willing to go on the record about the arbitrary nature of soft-shell legislature. My investigation stalled. What I can't seem to understand is why Ms. Eberly claimed to know nothing about the subject when in a May 26, 2000 article published by the Capital-Gazette Communications, Inc. she was quoted several times on the subject.

Seems like more than one civil servant has marsh mud stuck between his toes.

I turned to Senator Barbara A. Mikulski's Washington D.C. office. Mikulski, a strong advocate for the waterman, received an award from the Watermen's Association in January 2003 for being instrumental in securing federal funds to help pay for the Crab Restoration and the Bay (CRAB) Research Program of the Chesapeake Bay, enabling future sustainable fishing. I received a press kit, but no comment on the subject.

The most likely reason that state officials would prefer to target commercial rather than recreational fishermen is this: The former group doesn't have the numbers that translate into hearty political capital. There are fewer than 10,000 watermen now in Maryland and Virginia, the number plunging each year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that the blue-crab population has reached a 30-year low, and that serious remedies are needed to avoid potential disasters. Sources inside the NOAA add "Organizations involved in bay preservation have indicated that if current trends continue, it will result in crabs being placed on the Endangered Species List (ESL)." It's a fine balance--trying to preserve fishing--and trying to save the species.

The catch of the day for watermen is a boatload of Catch 22. Certainly this isn't what Mr. Morgan had in mind when he started crabbing at age 16. When I asked him what he liked most about crabbing, his short response said it all, "the freedom."

The story of the waterman is the classic conflict: man versus nature. Or perhaps the premise of this modern saga is man versus man. Regardless, the tides of the Chesapeake ebb and flow and the crab remains in the picture--for now.

See the fireworks? The spring of the season has ended.

A Philadelphia Story

The photos were taken. Questions asked and answered. The tripod packed. Ready to hightail it back to AC HQ when ChefVernon Morales dashes out of Salt with a bundle in his arms. Was this his four-month old baby, Benito, he had spoken of so fondly?

Instead, held just as gently, hidden beneath white cloth, Morales reveals a bright green bunch and offers us introductions to--

"Hyssop. You asked about it earlier--it just came in." We are given a leaf to taste. Refreshing and minty, just as Vernon described it to be. We thank him and wave goodbye again.

When David Fields, photographer-turned-restaurateur had his sights on Salt, he might not of known how approachable his end product would be. It's a feeling that carries over from the menu to the food and wine selection to the staff and the space.

Certainly this is a far cry from the "corporate mentality" of the Ritz-Carlton, Battery Park, New York, where Vernon reveals he "didn't quite fit in."

"I had a permanent room at the Ritz for the first three months. I worked 20-hour days everyday. I learned social skills there, which, sometimes, is hard for a chef. With a lack of sleep, it's much easier to take things out on people, you know?" He momentarily looks mischievous, "I did order room service once in awhile ... and all of my dry cleaning was taken care of."

Salt is certainly a shift from the Ritz. There's a sense of community here at the corner of 20th and Rittenhouse. Vernon appreciates that a local farmer comes in and hand delivers the pig order twice a week, "I have a chance to talk with him--it's nice." A fixed connection to the farm.

While we talk, David walks around straightening things. His habit is not at all bother-some. He's quietly comfortable, just like his restaurant. David admits he's a "neat freak." Wine and water glasses are aligned. Even a lowly salad fork that needs lining up does not escape David's sharp eye.

Vernon turns his attention back to describing how a Nicaraguan-born chef, himself--ended up here in Philadelphia. Like most chefs, he's been around the block.

"I went to the Culinary Academy in San Francisco, worked at the Flying Saucer in San Francisco, Restaurant Daniel, American Renaissance in Tribeca ..." He also sought out the acclaimed El Bulli and Ferran Adria in Spain.

Is it really the magical place it's made out to be?

"It's hard to go to El Bulli and not be influenced. It was the right time in my career and it opened my mind about what I can do with product. You can borrow a few ideas, but the whole process is hard to capture."

"From Spain, I went back to Daniel and was saucier there for a year and a half." (Our conversation takes a circular turn.) "Then I went to the Ritz in Battery Park." Ah, yes, the room service ...

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Halfway through our interview, Vernon politely excuses himself to speak with one of his distributors who has stopped in with a delivery--he's also brought his wife who Vernon has never met. The priorities here seem right.

It's been a refreshing shift in responsibilities: from planning breakfast, lunch and dinner to working with a single dinner menu, one Vernon likes to change up two or three times a week. "It keeps me moving and makes it interesting for the cooks downstairs and the customers upstairs. We have a lot of regulars who come here all the time and I don't want them to tire of the food."

Still on his high from a four-day mini-vacation to Mexico, Vernon brightens when asked what he did there, emphatically responding, "I drank tequila!"

He excitedly talks about the urban juggernaut of Mexico City. Vernon calls it a "haven" for up-and-coming chefs. "Young chefs who return from Europe are opening up restaurants. Le Cordon Bleu even opened an annex. I've been going to Mexico City every year for the past five years and have seen the gradual change. There's energy in the food, the music and the parties." Vernon laughs as he puts emphasis on the last of that list. Maybe he's thinking of something that won't make it to print.

"There is so much energy in Mexico City, a lot happening there right now. I went to the market everyday and ate quesadillas. The food is so fresh; it has to be. Refrigeration still isn't easy to come by, so a lot of Mexicans buy what they need that day, cook and when they run out of food, well that's it."

Pass the salt, please.

"Can I offer you guys a Dunkin' Donut[R]?"

7:45a.m. Here was Genvieve, daughter of Georges, a 'Perrier,' and AC's contact. She greeted us with a yawn and a box of the assorted sweet along with La Colombe coffee-served on fine china. So far the image of THE consummate establishment with deep Philadelphia roots was a touch more deviant than preconceived--this was exciting.

If most restaurants fail in the first year, then Le Bec-Fin has outwitted, outlasted and outplayed them all--a true survivor. Credit, of course, goes to Georges Perrier, featured in Art Culinaire some 60 issues ago. Now that's longevity.

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Le Bec-Fin's latest secret weapon is next to greet us, rubbing his eyes. It's Daniel Stern, hailed by regional magazines and newspapers as the local boy to make good--the "comeback kid." The headlines could read like baseball box scores:

'Investing in Stern Pays off for Phillies'

'Phillies Rally, Win Fifth Star'

Stern is, after all, more than a little responsible for helping reclaim that all-important fifth-star from Mobile that was taken away in 2000. Hailing from nearby Cherry Hill, Stern has landed more than another star, he has arrived--"home."

The chef speaks softly and carries a big-plate of soft-shell with peach confit, the first of our shots this morning. Speaking with inflections, not unlike Don Corleone in The Godfather (this is no parody), Stern shares his story. He talks about getting his undergraduate degree from Connecticut College in Asian and Religious Studies. "When I went to college, I wanted to learn Japanese. So, that's what I did. I even lived in Kyoto, Japan, for a little while. I still understand some conversation, which comes in handy if I need to greet a guest."

He also chats about being the first director of an after-school program (geared toward the overlooked 10-14 year old age group) at the NYC 92nd YMCA. Stern had moved to New York to attend graduate school in Education and Comparative Literature. "I ran the program for a year and wasn't sure if I wanted to finish school or not."

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Was this a chef or an academic?

Daniel continues in the same smooth manner. "It was all an interesting experience, but not my passion. So, with a lot of prodding from my family and friends--they said, 'you grew up around it, you were always in the kitchen, why not cook?' But my idea was to have a career, then one day open a restaurant." He pauses and repeats "one day," augmenting that with "just like everybody else."

"With very little on my resume, I started knocking on doors in New York." Stern took a couple non-and semi-paying jobs before Gray Kunz took notice (Stern still can't understand why) and passed the resume on to Rocco DiSpirito, who was opening Dava. "It was Rocco who gave me my first real paying job."

Going back to school, even after working with several accomplished chefs, was still not out of the question. But this time, the young chef was considering a culinary education. Stern says his decision not to enroll came down to one thing: student loans. "I wasn't about to go into more debt!"

There's a pause in our conversation as Pastry Chef Antoine Amrani walks in the room. He greets us with his offering--a perfect assortment of housemade chocolates. He's rubbing his eyes, too, saying he is "wiped out." Next to stop by is 26-year old Sommelier, Gregory Castells. He looks longingly at our coffee urn. This bunch is beat.

"These guys work hard," says Stern. "I was hired to get that star back, and I'm glad people are so receptive to the food, but there are people other than me who work at this every day--in the front and back of the house. This is a team effort."

Stern cooks at Le Bec-Fin fourteen hours every day. "I have no time to cook at home. It would be nice to get up, ride to the market on a bicycle with a little basket, buy a bottle of wine and spend the afternoon cooking in my little kitchen. Maybe someday." He laughs, then waves a hand, just like the Godfather, and adds, "Do you know the last time I did something like that? I think it was Mother's Day about six months ago ... except for making nachos. But that counts, right?"

RELATED ARTICLE: Tempura Soft-Shell Crab with Carrot-Hyssop Dipping Sauce (Serves 4)

Vernon MORALES

directions

For the dipping sauce: Combine carrot juice, orange juice, lemon grass and hyssop in a saucepan and reduce by half. Finish with butter and season with lemon juice and pepper. Strain though a fine-mesh sieve; set aside, keeping warm.

For the almond sauce: Puree almonds and oil in a blender; season with fleur de sel to taste. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and set aside.

For the tempura batter: In a medium bowl, combine egg yolk and club soda. Add flour and almond flour; mix gently to combine. Batter should be lumpy. Set aside in the refrigerator.

For the soft-shell crabs: Preheat deep fryer to 350 degrees. Season crabs and pea tendrils with salt and espelette pepper; dredge in flour. Dip crabs and pea tendrils in batter and deep-fry until golden brown. Blot on paper towels and set aside, keeping warm.

To serve: Decorate plates with almond sauce and arrange crab and pea tendrils. Place dipping sauce in a bowl on the side.

ingredients

For the dipping sauce:

1 cup carrot juice

1/4 cup orange juice

2 tablespoons finely chopped lemon grass

4 hyssop leaves*

1 tablespoon butter

Lemon juice as needed

Espelette pepper**

For the almond sauce:

2 ounces whole Spanish almonds, blanched and roasted

1/4 cup almond oil

Fleur de sel

For the tempura batter:

1 egg yolk

1 1/4 cups cold soda water

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup almond flour

For the soft-shell crabs:

4 soft-shell crabs, cleaned

12 ounces pea tendrils, stems trimmed, leaves removed and cut into 4-inch pieces

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Salt

Espelette pepper**

* Available through The Chef's Garden at (800) 289-4644.

** Espelette pepper is a small red pepper from the south of France. Available fresh, dried or pureed.

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RELATED ARTICLE: Soft-Shell Crab with Rhubarb and Wheat Grass Sauce (Serves 4)

Vernon MORALES

directions

For the rhubarb: Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Bring water, sugar and vanilla bean to a boil and add rhubarb. Transfer to oven, cover and braise for 30 minutes. Remove rhubarb and reserve. Reduce sauce until thickened and add lemon juice. Set aside, keeping warm.

For the wheat grass sauce: In a blender, combine spinach and water; puree until smooth. Combine cornstarch and one ounce chicken stock in a bowl; mix well to make a slurry. Bring remaining chicken stock to a boil; add wheat grass juice and spinach. Add slurry, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for one minute. Season with salt and white pepper. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and set aside, keeping warm.

For the soft-shell crabs: Season crabs with salt and white pepper; dust with Wondra flour. Heat clarified butter in a saute pan. Add crabs and cook on both sides to desired doneness.

To serve: Divide rhubarb and crabs evenly between four plates and drizzle with wheat grass sauce and reserved rhubarb glaze; garnish crabs with Maldon[R] salt.

ingredients

For the rhubarb:

6 ounces water

1 ounce sugar

1 vanilla bean, split

1 pound rhubarb, peeled and cut into four 2 1/2-inch pieces

Juice from 1 lemon

For the wheat grass sauce:

2 ounces spinach, stemmed and blanched

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/3 cup chicken stock

1/4 cup wheat grass juice

Salt and white pepper

For the soft-shell crabs:

4 soft-shell crabs, cleaned

Wondra flour as needed

2 tablespoons clarified butter

Salt and white pepper

For the garnish:

Maldon[R] sea salt

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RELATED ARTICLE: Soft-Shell Crab with Morel Mushrooms and Licorice Emulsion (Serves 4)

Vernon MORALES

directions

For the asparagus: Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Toss asparagus with duck fat and roast in oven until tender. Season with fleur de sel and white pepper; set aside, keeping warm.

For the licorice emulsion: Add chicken stock, mushrooms and asparagus trim to a saucepan; simmer for 30 minutes. Add licorice root and chili pepper. Remove from heat and set aside to infuse for 10 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and return to a boil. Season with lemon juice; incorporate butter and foam with a hand-held immersion blender.

For the morel mushrooms: Melt duck fat in a saute pan and cook mushrooms until tender. Season with lemon juice, fleur de sel and pepper; set aside, keeping warm.

For the coral sauce: Bring lobster stock to a boil. Using a hand-held immersion blender, add one tablespoon butter. Remove from heat, add coral and puree until smooth. Return to the heat, add remaining butter and blend until emulsified. Season with lemon juice, fleur de sel and white pepper.

For the soft-shell crabs: Season crabs with Maldon[R] sea salt and white pepper; dust with Wondra flour. Heat clarified butter in a saute pan. Add crabs and cook on both sides to desired doneness.

To serve: Place mushrooms and crab on a plate and arrange asparagus. Spoon licorice emulsion and coral sauce on plate; garnish with Maldon[R] sea salt.

ingredients

For the asparagus:

16 asparagus spears, peeled and blanched, trim reserved

2 tablespoons melted duck fat

Fleur de sel and white pepper

For the licorice emulsion:

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

4 ounces morel mushrooms

Reserved asparagus trim

1/4-inch piece licorice root

1/2 dried Thai chili pepper

Lemon juice as needed

2 ounces butter

For the morel mushrooms:

2 tablespoons duck fat

4 ounces trimmed morel mushrooms

Lemon juice as needed

Fleur de sel and white pepper

For the coral sauce:

3 ounces lobster stock

2 tablespoons butter, divided

1 ounce lobster coral

Lemon juice as needed

Fleur de sel and white pepper

For the soft-shell crabs:

4 soft-shell crabs, cleaned

Wondra flour as needed

2 tablespoons clarified butter

Maldon[R] sea salt and white pepper

For the garnish:

Maldon[R] sea salt

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RELATED ARTICLE: Soft-Shell Crab with Soffrito and Sea Urchin Emulsion (Serves 4)

Vernon MORALES

directions

For the olive caramel: Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Arrange olives on sheet pan and bake for one hour. Transfer to a blender and puree with olive oil. Cook sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat until lightly caramelized. Quickly, transfer to a blender with olive oil puree and mix until combined. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and set aside, keeping warm.

For the piquillo peppers: Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Arrange peppers in a saute pan and cover with olive oil, garlic and thyme. Place in oven for 30 minutes, remove peppers from oil and cool on a wire rack.

For the soffrito: Heat olive oil in a saucepan and cook shallots until translucent. Add cucumbers, tomato confit, lemon zest, olives; cook for two minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl. Add chives and season with vinegar, salt and pepper. Set aside, keeping warm.

For the sea urchin emulsion: Bring lobster stock to a boil and whisk in butter. Reduce heat to low; blend in sea urchin and lemon juice with a hand-held immersion blender. Season with Tabasco[R] and fleur de sel. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and set aside, keeping warm. To finish, froth with a hand-held immersion blender.

For the vermicelli: Preheat deep fryer to 350 degrees and deep-fry vermicelli until crispy. Blot on paper towels and season with Maldon[R] sea salt.

For the soft-shell crabs: Season crabs with salt and white pepper; dust with Wondra flour. Heat clarified butter in a saute pan. Add crabs and cook on both sides to desired doneness.

To serve: Divide piquillo peppers, soffrito, and crabs between four plates. Drizzle olive caramel on plate and spoon sea urchin emulsion over crab. Garnish with vermicelli.

ingredients

For the olive caramel:

1 1/2 cups pitted black olives

1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon water

For the piquillo peppers:

16 piquillo peppers

2 cups olive oil

1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped

1 sprig thyme, stemmed

For the soffrito:

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 shallot, peeled and thinly sliced

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, finely chopped and blanched

1 ounce tomato confit, chopped

Zest of 1 lemon, blanched and finely chopped

2 tablespoons pitted and chopped kalamata olives

2 tablespoons chopped chives

Sherry vinegar as needed

Salt and white pepper

For the sea urchin emulsion:

1 cup lobster stock

1 tablespoon butter

2 ounces sea urchin

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Tabasco[R] as needed

Fleur de sel

For the vermicelli:

4 ounces mung bean vermicelli

Maldon[R] sea salt

For the soft-shell crabs:

4 soft-shell crabs, cleaned

Salt and white pepper

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RELATED ARTICLE: Soft-Shell Crab with Tapioca Pearl Sauce (Serves 4)

Vernon MORALES

directions

For the tapioca pearl sauce: Heat oil in a large saucepan and brown lobster body. Add garlic, onion and fennel; cook for three minutes. Add tomatoes and continue cooking until mixture thickens. Add tomato paste and pastis; reduce by half. Add bass bones, one quart chicken stock, saffron, dry fennel, cayenne, orange zest, bay leaf and salt. Simmer for one hour; occasionally skimming surface. Strain through a cheesecloth-lined fine-mesh sieve and discard solids. Bring sauce to a boil; reduce by one-third. Heat remaining chicken stock in a separate saucepan; simmer tapioca pearls for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and rinse. Add tapioca to sauce and set aside, keeping warm.

For the fennel: Heat duck fat in a medium saucepan; add fennel. Saute for three minutes and add chicken stock. Cover, reduce heat and simmer until fennel is tender. Season with salt and white pepper and set aside, keeping warm.

For the fennel sauce: Cook fennel trim in boiling salted water until tender and shock in an ice water bath. Transfer to a blender with chicken stock, blending until smooth; strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a saucepan. Place over medium heat and reduce until thickened. Season with salt and pepper and set aside, keeping warm.

For the soft-shell crabs: Brush crabs with egg wash; sprinkle with fennel pollen and orange zest. Season with Maldon[R] sea salt and espelette pepper and coat with poha flakes. Heat clarified butter in a saute pan. Add crabs and cook on both sides to desired doneness.

To serve: Layer fennel and crab on top of fennel sauce; drizzle with tapioca pearl sauce.

ingredients

For the tapioca pearl sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 lobster body, cleaned and chopped

3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

1 red onion, peeled and sliced

4 ounces fennel, chopped

10 ounces tomatoes, chopped

1 tablespoon tomato paste

4 ounces pastis

12 ounces bass bones

1 quart 4 ounces chicken stock

Pinch saffron

1 branch dry fennel

Pinch cayenne pepper

Zest from 1 orange

1 bay leaf

2 ounces tapioca pearls, soaked for two hours

Rock salt

For the fennel:

1/4 cup duck fat

16 baby fennel, upper stalks trimmed and reserved for fennel sauce

1 1/4 cups chicken stock

Fleur de sel and white pepper

For the fennel sauce:

Reserved fennel leaves

3/4 cup chicken stock

Fleur de sel and white pepper

For the soft-shell crabs:

4 soft-shell crabs, cleaned

Egg wash as needed

1 tablespoon fennel pollen*

1 tablespoon dried orange zest

1 cup poha flakes*

2 tablespoons clarified butter

Maldon[R] sea salt

Espelette pepper**

* Available through Kalustyan's at (800) 352-3451.

** Espelette pepper is a small red pepper from the south of France.

Available fresh, dried, or pureed.

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RELATED ARTICLE: Soft-Shell Crab with Pork Belly and Enoki Mushrooms (Serves 4)

Vernon MORALES

directions

For the pork belly: Place the garlic, star anise, coriander, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, sage, salt and sugar in a saute pan; toast until fragrant. Rub pork belly with mixture and refrigerate for 12 hours, turning over after six. Rinse ingredients and blot with paper towels. Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Place pork belly in a roasting pan, cover with water and poach in oven for 10 hours. Remove and cool on a rack. Cut into eight 1 X 2-inch rectangles. To finish, heat oil in a saute pan and brown belly, skin side down.

For the pork jus: Heat duck fat in saucepan, and brown pork bones. Remove excess fat from pan and add garlic. Cook until translucent and add one cup water; reduce until almost dry. Add remaining water and reduce by half. Strain thorough a cheese cloth-lined fine-mesh sieve. Season with salt and pepper and set aside, keeping warm.

For the fava bean puree: Puree ingredients in a blender and strain through a fine-mesh sieve; set aside.

For the enoki mushrooms: Separate the mushrooms into eight small bundles. Wrap pancetta around each bundle. Heat oil in a saute pan and cook bundles until pancetta turns lightly brown. Set aside, keeping warm.

For the soft-shell crabs: Season crabs with salt and white pepper; dust with Wondra flour. Heat clarified butter in a saute pan. Add crabs and cook on both sides to desired doneness.

To serve: Drizzle plate with fava bean puree and pork jus. Arrange pork belly, crab and enoki mushrooms and garnish with membrillo.

ingredients

For the pork belly:

6 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

6 star anise, crushed

2 tablespoons ground coriander

1 tablespoon crushed black pepper

1 cinnamon stick, crushed

4 cloves, crushed

1 bay leaf, broken

1/4 bunch thyme, stemmed and chopped

4 sprigs rosemary, stemmed and chopped

4 sprigs sage, stemmed and chopped

6 ounces coarse salt

2 ounces sugar

2 pounds young pork belly

1 tablespoon olive oil

For the pork jus:

1 tablespoon duck fat

6 ounces pork bones

1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced

2 cups water

Rock salt

For the fava bean puree:

8 ounces fava beans, peeled and sauteed

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup chicken stock

1 tablespoon butter

Fleur de sel and white pepper

For the enoki mushrooms:

1 pound enoki mushrooms

8 slices pancetta, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

For the soft-shell crabs:

4 soft-shell crabs, cleaned

Wondra flour as needed

Clarified butter

Salt and white pepper

For the garnish:

Membrillo*

* Membrillo is quince paste.

Available through Assoulline & Ting at (800) 521-4491.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

RELATED ARTICLE: Soft-Shell Crab with White Corn Sauce and Peaches (Serves 4)

Daniel STERN

directions

For the peaches: Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Combine peaches, bay leaves, sugar, thyme, sake and corn kernels and mix well; marinate for two hours. Place mixture in oven and cook for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from oven and set aside. Remove peaches from liquid and reheat in a saute pan with butter.

For the white corn sauce: Melt butter in saucepan and add roasted corn, corn cobs, peach skins and pits, two tablespoons brandy, lavender and water. Simmer for 30 minutes, strain through a fine-mesh sieve and reserve. Heat oil in a separate saucepan. Add shallots, garlic and two tablespoons corn kernels; cook for five minutes. Deglaze with remaining brandy and reduce by three-quarters. Add lobster stock and reserved mixture. Puree with a hand-held immersion blender and strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Transfer to a saucepan; add remaining corn and steep for one hour.

For the lavender glaze: Combine mayonnaise, mustard and red wine vinegar in a bowl and reserve. Add wine, lavender, basil, peppercorns, and cloves in a saucepan and simmer until reduced by half. Add white wine vinegar, cream and honey; simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and add to reserved mixture. Set aside.

For the soft-shell crabs: Heat clarified butter in a saute pan over medium-high heat and season crabs with salt and pepper. Saute crabs on both sides and cook to desire doneness.

To serve: Arrange crab, white corn sauce and peaches on a plate and garnish with turnips, lavender flowers and chives; drizzle plate with lavender glaze.

ingredients

For the peaches:

3 peaches, peeled and cut into 8 slices; reserve skins and pits

2 bay leaves, crushed

1 tablespoon sugar

5 sprigs thyme, stemmed

1/2 cup sake

1/4 cup yellow corn kernels

2 tablespoons butter

Salt

For the white corn sauce:

2 ounces butter

1/2 tablespoon Korean roasted corn*

2 corn cobs

Reserved peach skins and pits

1/4 cup brandy

2 sprigs lavender

3 cups water

1/2 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 tablespoon butter

2 shallots, peeled and sliced

3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

1/2 cup white corn kernels, blanched

1 cup lobster stock

For the lavender glaze:

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons mustard

2 tablespoons white vinegar

2 tablespoons white wine

2 sprigs lavender

1 sprig basil

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

2 cloves

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

3/4 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons honey

For the soft-shell crabs:

Clarified butter as needed

4 soft-shell crabs, cleaned

Salt and pepper

For the garnish:

8 blanched baby white turnips, 4 peeled, 4 thinly sliced

Lavender flowers

Chives, chopped

* Available at Korean markets.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

RELATED ARTICLE: Soft-Shell Crab with Tuna Tartare (Serves 4)

Daniel STERN

directions

For the tomato ice: Place ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and strain through a fine-mesh sieve; freeze and reserve for watermelon cup.

For the tuna tartare: Combine ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and mix well; season with salt and pepper. Marinate in the refrigerator for one hour and reserve for watermelon cup.

For the avocado coulis: Combine ingredients and puree in a blender. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

For the soft-shell crabs: Melt butter in a saute pan over medium-high heat and season crabs with salt and pepper. Saute crabs on both side and cook to desired doneness.

To assemble the watermelon cup: Line the inside of four 1 1/2-inch ring molds with watermelon slices. Fill with two alternating layers of tuna tartare and tomato ice.

To serve: Arrange soft-shell crab with cucumbers and avocados as shown. Place watermelon cup and garnish with avocado coulis and amaranth as shown.

ingredients

For the tomato ice:

1/4 cup vodka

1 cup yellow tomato water

1/2 tablespoon grated wasabi

2 tablespoons choppped basil

1 sprig cilantro, chopped

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

For the tuna tartare:

8 ounces bluefin tuna, diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped

1 tablespoon chopped chervil

1 tablespoon chopped chives

1/2 cucumber, peeled and chopped

Salt and pepper

For the avocado coulis:

1 cup cucumber juice

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 teaspoon sherry vinegar

Tabasco[R] sauce as needed

1/2 avocado, pitted and skinned

2 tablespoons creme fraiche

Salt and pepper

For the soft-shell crabs:

Clarified butter as needed

4 soft-shell crabs, cleaned

Salt and pepper

To assemble the watermelon cup:

4 4 X 1 1/2-inch slices watermelon, marinated in lime juice

Reserved tomato ice

Reserved tuna tartare

For the dish:

1 avocado, pitted, skinned and thinly sliced

1 seedless cucumber, peeled, julienned, salted and rinsed

Amaranth

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

RELATED ARTICLE: Soft-Shell Crab Hot Pot (Serves 4)

Daniel STERN

directions

For the tempura: Preheat deep fryer to 350 degrees. Mix water, baking powder and flour in a bowl until combined. Dip one side of the shiso leaves in batter and deep-fry until crispy. Remove from oil, blot with paper towels and set aside.

For the crab: Heat peanut oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add crabs and haricots vert; turn crabs over after one minute. Season with salt and pepper. Add almonds, shallots and garlic; saute until golden brown. Add parsley, cilantro, romaine and shiso before removing from heat.

To serve: Arrange crabs with haricots vert, herbs and remaining mixture. Drizzle with argan oil and lemon and lime juices. Garnish with shiso leaves and amaranth.

ingredients

For the tempura:

4 ounces water

1 tablespoon baking powder

3 ounces all-purpose flour

8 shiso leaves

For the crab:

2 tablespoons peanut oil

4 soft-shell crabs, cleaned

4 ounces haricots vert, blanched

2 tablespoons sliced almonds

3 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced

4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

5 sprigs parsley, stemmed and chopped

8 sprigs cilantro, stemmed and julienned

2 romaine leaves, thinly sliced

2 shiso leaves, julienned

Salt and pepper

For the garnish:

Argan oil as needed*

Lemon juice as needed

Lime juice as needed

Amaranth

* Available through Capri Flavors at (800) 861-5440.

RELATED ARTICLE: Soft-Shell Crab with Carrot Sauce (Serves 4)

Daniel STERN

directions

For the pickled carrots: Combine vinegar and sugar in a bowl; mix to dissolve sugar. Add carrots and rose geranium; refrigerate overnight.

For the carrot vinegar: Mix carrots and water in a blender and strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Divide in half and add vinegar to one part; reserve both parts for the carrot sauce.

For the carrot sauce: Melt two ounces butter in a medium saucepan. Add onion, fennel, carrot and garlic; cook until tender. Deglaze with wine and port; reduce by one-quarter. Add rose geranium and vegetable stock. Transfer to a blender and puree. Pass through a fine-mesh sieve and set aside, keeping warm. Season with carrot juice, carrot vinegar and salt and pepper. To finish, place over medium heat and add remaining butter; whisk until foamy.

For the herb salad: Combine herbs, carrot tops, fennel and rose geranium in a bowl and season with vinegar, grapeseed oil, salt and pepper.

For the soft-shell crabs: Heat clarified butter in saute pan over medium-high heat and season crabs with salt and pepper. Saute crabs on both sides to desired doneness.

To serve: Arrange crab with herb salad; garnish with pickled, orange and yellow carrots. Drizzle with sauce.

ingredients

For the pickled carrots:

1 cup white vinegar

1/3 cup sugar

2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced

6 rose geranium leaves*

For the carrot vinegar:

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons white vinegar

For the carrot sauce:

4 ounces butter

1/4 small onion, peeled and finely chopped

1/4 cup chopped fennel bulb

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced

2 tablespoons white wine

2 tablespoons white port

2 rose geranium leaves*

3/4 cup vegetable stock

Carrot juice as needed

Carrot vinegar as needed

Salt and pepper

For the herb salad:

1 ounce mixed herbs

1 bunch carrot tops

1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced

Rose geranium leaves as needed*

2 tablespoons Banyuls vinegar

1/4 cup grapeseed oil

Salt and pepper

For the crabs:

Clarified butter as needed

4 soft-shell crabs, cleaned

Salt and pepper

For the garnish:

Orange and yellow carrots, peeled, cut into rounds and sauteed in butter

* Available through The Chef's Garden at (800) 289-4644.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

RELATED ARTICLE: Soft-Shell Crab with Short Ribs and Leek Emulsion (Serves 4)

Daniel STERN

directions

For the short ribs: Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan and simmer for three hours. Remove ribs from liquid, shred and reserve. Reduce liquid to three-quarters cup and strain through a fine-mesh sieve; season with salt and pepper. Set aside 1/4 cup for the red wine sauce and 1/2 cup for the leek emulsion.

For the red wine sauce: Heat oil in a saute pan, add shallots, garlic and wine and reduce to a syrup consistency. Add 1/4 cup reserved liquid and veal jus; simmer for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Divide sauce, reserving half to finish the short ribs and reduce the remaining half to a thick sauce consistency. Set aside, keeping warm.

To finish the short ribs: Bring red wine sauce to a boil in a saucepan and add agar agar; simmer for two minutes and chill in an ice bath. Add shredded short ribs, parsley, chervil and Thai basil. Using plastic wrap, roll into a 6-inch long by 1 1/2-inch diameter cylinder and refrigerate until set.

For the leek emulsion: Melt butter in a medium saute pan. Add the leeks and cook until soft. Deglaze with wine and reduce by three-quarters. Add vegetable stock and reserved liquid from short ribs; simmer for 30 minutes and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a blender; add horseradish and blend for one minute. Fold in egg yolk and butter; blend until the sauce becomes foamy.

To finish: Remove short rib cylinder from refrigerator and slice into four 1 1/2-inch thick pieces. Melt clarified butter in saute pan over medium-high heat and season crabs with salt and pepper. Saute on both sides and cook to desired doneness. Place crabs on top of short rib pieces and wrap with leeks.

To serve: Arrange crab and julienned leeks. Top with fried horseradish and baby basil; spoon with red wine sauce and leek emulsion foam.

ingredients

For the short ribs:

1 1/2 pounds short ribs

1 cup white wine

1 cup Dijon mustard

1 cup grated horseradish

2 leeks, white part only, sliced

1 head garlic, split

1 gallon water

1/4 bunch thyme

1/4 bunch parsley

Salt and pepper

For the red wine sauce:

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 shallots, peeled and roasted

1/2 head garlic, roasted

1/3 cup red wine

Reserved 1/4 cup short rib liquid

1 cup veal jus

Salt and pepper

To finish the short ribs:

Reserved red wine sauce

1 teaspoon agar agar powder

Reserved shredded short ribs

1/2 bunch parsley, stemmed and chopped

1/2 bunch chervil, stemmed and chopped

1/2 bunch Thai basil, stemmed and chopped

For the leek emulsion:

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 bunch leeks, white part, reserve greens

2 tablespoons white wine

1 cup vegetable stock

Reserved 1/2 cup short rib liquid

2 tablespoons grated horseradish

1 egg yolk

1/4 cup butter

Salt and white pepper

To finish:

Short rib cylinder

Clarified butter as needed

4 soft-shell crabs, cleaned

Reserved green leeks, cut into four strips and blanched

Salt and pepper

For the garnish:

2 leeks, julienne and sauteed in butter

Fried julienned horseradish

Basil

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

RELATED ARTICLE: Soft-shell Crab with Squash and Curry Sauce (Serves 4)

Daniel STERN

directions

For the sauce: Peel squash and zucchini, reserving skin for garnish. Combine yellow squash flesh, zucchini flesh, leek, garlic, fennel seeds, shallots, curry powder, tomato water, wine, vermouth, cilantro and bay leaf and marinate overnight. Cook the marinade until soft. Add heavy cream and simmer until thickened. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. Pass through a fine-mesh sieve and set aside, keeping warm.

For the rhubarb: Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook in oven for 20 minutes and remove. Set aside, keeping warm.

For the zucchini blossoms: Place crabmeat, mayonnaise, mustard, shallots, chives and curry in a bowl and mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Stuff the zucchini blossoms with mixture and dredge in flour, egg wash and panko; repeat process. Heat oil in a saute pan, and saute zucchini blossoms until crispy.

For the soft-shell crabs: Heat clarified butter in a saute pan over medium-high heat and season crabs with salt and pepper; saute on both sides to desired doneness.

For the dish: Dress zucchini blossoms and rhubarb with olive oil and lemon juice.

To finish: Arrange crab, zucchini blossoms and rhubarb on plate and garnish with fresh zucchini blossoms, shaved rhubarb, yellow squash and zucchini; spoon sauce on plate.

ingredients

For the sauce:

1 yellow squash

1 zucchini

1 leek, sliced

5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

3 shallots, peeled and sliced

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 cup tomato water

1/4 cup white wine

2 tablespoons vermouth

6 sprigs cilantro

1/2 bay leaf

1 cup heavy cream

For the rhubarb:

2 stalks rhubarb, cut into 2-inch pieces

3/4 cup white wine

1/4 cup vermouth

1/4 cup sugar

For the zucchini blossoms:

1/2 pound peeky-toe crabmeat

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/2 bunch chives, sliced

Curry powder to taste

Salt and pepper

4 zucchini blossoms

Flour as needed

Egg wash as needed

Panko breadcrumbs with herbs as needed

For the soft-shell crabs:

Clarified butter as needed

4 soft-shell crabs, cleaned

Salt and pepper

For the dish:

Zucchini blossoms

1 rhubarb, shaved

Olive oil as needed

Lemon juice, as needed

For the garnish:

Reserved squash and zucchini skins, finely diced and sauteed

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

RELATED ARTICLE: Soft-Shell Crab with Mango Kohlrabi Salad (Serves 4)

Daniel STERN

directions

For the lobster sauce: Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add shallots and garlic; cook until translucent. Deglaze with wine and reduce to almost dry. Add lobster stock and reduce by one-quarter. Add asparagus and cook for two minutes. Transfer to a blender and add dill, basil and lobster; blend until smooth and season with salt and pepper. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and set aside, keeping warm.

For the salad: Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well; season with salt and pepper. To finish, warm salad in a saucepan.

For the mango coulis: Combine all ingredients in a blender and mix well; set aside.

For the crab: Heat clarified butter in saute pan over medium-high heat and season crabs with salt and pepper. Saute crabs on both sides to desired doneness.

To serve: Divide salad into four kohlrabi shells. Place crab in a pool of lobster sauce and drizzle with mango coulis and lobster oil. Garnish with asparagus and fried basil.

ingredients

For the lobster sauce:

2 tablespoons butter

3 shallots, peeled and sliced

3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

1/4 cup white wine

1 cup lobster stock

1/2 bunch asparagus, chopped

1/2 bunch dill, stemmed

6 sprigs basil, stemmed

Lobster meat from 1/2 lobster tail

Salt and pepper

For the salad:

1/2 bunch asparagus, cut into 2-inch pieces and roasted

1 kohlrabi, peeled, julienned and blanched

1 mango, peeled, pitted and julienned

1 Thai chili pepper, seeded, stemmed and finely chopped

Honey to taste

1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped

2 shallots, peeled and chopped

Juice from 1 lemon

Juice from 1 lime

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon chopped dill

12 basil leaves, julienned

Salt and pepper

For the mango coulis:

1/2 mango, peeled and pitted

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons walnut oil

1/2 Thai chili, seeded and stemmed

1 teaspoon honey

2 tablespoon Banyuls vinegar

For the crab:

Clarified butter as needed

4 soft-shell crabs, cleaned

Salt and pepper

For the garnish:

2 kohlrabi, halved and hollowed

Lobster oil*

1/2 bunch asparagus, roasted

Fried basil

* Available through Cannery Seafood Company at (604) 254-9606.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:crab industry in Maryland
Author:Newman, Carol M.
Publication:Art Culinaire
Geographic Code:1U5MD
Date:Mar 22, 2004
Words:8524
Previous Article:Symmetry by way of chemistry.
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