Chef Dean Neff Cooks up a seaside meal for Easter

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Chef Dean Neff cooks up a light, Spring meal perfect for your Easter dinner.

Watch the video to follow along while you cook!

Chef Dean Neff joined WWAY’s Donna Gregory in studio on Good Evening Wilmington to show us how you can make Crispy Wilmington Soft Shell Crab with spring leek-creamed grits, radish slaw with remoulade, and hot sauce butter emulsion. 


Crispy Soft Shell Crab (Seaview Crab Co) (you may substitute Skate Wing, Flounder, or Shad Roe)

4 medium soft shell crabs cleaned (remove gills, face, and underside flap with scissors) or 5-6 oz portions fresh skate wing, boneless skinless flounder, or shad roe

2 cups buttermilk lightly seasoned with kosher salt and stirred well.

4 cups of corn flour or masa harina seasoned lightly with kosher salt in a baking dish with sides

1 cup of corn or canola oil

1 lemon to squeeze for finishing


Tip* Make sure you can maintain a consistent heat of your oil as you cook. Use a high temperature thermometer and be ready to adjust heat quickly.  Always remove the crab from the hot oil and gently dab on a paper towel to absorb excess oil. Hot oil is less viscous than cool oil. If you allow your crab to remain in the oil as it cools even slightly, it will result in a greasy soft shell. Be careful as well not to heat oil too hot as it can give the crab a bad burnt oil flavor and can be flat out dangerous. Make sure your cast iron pan has sides high enough to prevent overflow when the crab starts to fry.    

Heat the oil in a large cast iron skillet until hot enough to fry but not smoking or to about 365°F.

Submerge the soft shells into the buttermilk to coat thoroughly. Lightly dredge the crab into the corn flour to coat evenly. Pat off residual corn flour and carefully place the crabs upside-down into the hot oil. Don’t over-crowd your skillet and work in batches if needed. You may want to use a metal mesh strainer to cover crabs as they cook. They will spit and spat hot oil as they crisp. Carefully flip the crab over once they are golden brown on the top side and crisp on the bottom side. Cook to an internal temperature of 165°F. Remove and pat gently on a dry clean towel to remove excess oil.

Spring Leek Grits 

½ cup coarse white grits

1 ½ cups water

½ cup whole milk

¼ cup heavy cream

½ cup (rough chopped) cleaned garlic leeks (Black River Organics or Red Beard Farm)

Salt and Pepper

In a small and nonreactive saucepot, add the water and grits. Over low heat, bring to a gentle simmer and turn down cook slowly without boiling. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot to prevent scorching. Cook the grits to the variety’s determined time, and finish with salt and pepper.

In a small and nonreactive saucepot, add the milk, heavy cream, and the spring garlic leeks. Season this mixture with salt. Simmer over low heat until the leek is tender (about 10 minutes). Carefully puree in a blender until smooth with a heavy towel over the top to prevent a dangerous and hot explosion.

Marry the grits and the leek puree to fortify the grits.  Be careful not dilute the consistency too much. If you add too much of the puree, you can put the mixture back on the heat to gently reduce. Taste for seasoning. Reserve and hold warm.


2 tablespoons finely minced celery

1 teaspoon chopped capers

1 teaspoon horseradish

½ teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon

½ teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice

¼ teaspoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon finely minced cornichons (or pickles)

1 teaspoon cornichon juice (or pickle juice)

2 teaspoons spicy whole grain mustard (we use Lusty Monk)

1 cup crème fraiche

1 cup Duke’s Mayo

salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Whisk well to incorporate all ingredients. Use as a dressing for shredded root vegetables like radish, celery root, carrots, and parsnips (or just as a sauce for the crab). Dress and season with salt at least 2 hours and up to 2 days to soften the root vegetables. We used radishes.

12-20 radishes shaved or quartered (Black River Organics or Red Beard Farm)

Dress with the remoulade – dress to resemble cole slaw.

Hot Sauce Butter Emulsion

½ cup white wine (good enough to drink)

1 tablespoon finely minced shallot

1 bay leaf

1 small sprig fresh thyme (optional

1 small sprig fresh oregano (optional)

1 cup low sodium vegetable or fish stock

1 tablespoon cream

¼ pound unsalted cold butter

1 tablespoon Texas Pete, Crystal, or similar style hot sauce.

Salt to finish

In a nonreactive 1-2 quart saucepot over low heat, add the white wine, shallot, bay leaf, thyme, oregano, and reduce by half. Add the stock and reduce by half. Turn the heat very low and add the cream, the butter, and the hot sauce. Stir constantly while the butter melts to incorporate, while being vigilant in making sure the mixture never gets hot enough to boil. Once the butter has been fully melted and incorporated, season and strain through a fine mesh strainer. Hold warm until served. Adjust the hot sauce if desired.




Put about 2 oz of the creamed grits on the center of a large dinner plate. Place the crispy soft shell crab on top. Place a nice amount of the root vegetable slaw or radishes dressed with the remoulade over the soft shell crab. Drizzle 1 oz of the sauce over a small portion of the soft shell crab and the remaining around the crab. Finish with fresh herbs (basil, tarragon, celery leaves and squeeze lemon on top to finish.

Strawberries are available locally from the farmers market and at Lewis. Here is a recipe for sabayon. It is an airy custard-like topping that is really great just served with strawberries and shaved rhubarb. If you have access to a butane torch you can toast it just before serving and drizzle honey and or good balsamic vinegar and top with toasted almonds.

Elderflower Sabayon

10 egg yolks

3 tablespoons St. Germaine

5 tablespoons white sugar

½ cup heavy whipping cream whipped to soft peaks

Over a double-boiler, add all of the ingredients except the whipped cream. Whip the egg yolk mixture over low simmer, while making sure to scrape the surface of the mixing bowl continuously and completely to avoid cooking the eggs. Whip until you reach the ribbony stage, and the mixture reaches Chill completely with an ice bath. Fold in the whipped cream gently to finish.

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