Soft-shell crabs come into season in the middle of spring — right about now — along the eastern coast of the United States. Between now and midsummer, the season will creep along the coast until it has reached its most northern point — Maryland.
Soft-shell crabs are blue crabs that have just molted, or shed their hard outer shells. When they are caught just after molting, the shell is extremely soft and totally edible. At other times of the year, you have to sit down with a hammer and pick to excavate the bits of meat from all of its tiny crevices. If you can find them live, ask your fishmonger to clean them, which involves removing the gills and snipping off the front part and the back flap of the crab. Then you can eat the entire cleaned soft-shell crab — shell and all! If you are looking to experiment with this seasonal seafood treat, here are three delicious recipes to test out:
Pan-fried soft-shell crabs are lovely when served over a spring vegetable succotash or simply with a side of roasted asparagus.
For a fun variation on a classic fried soft-shell crab, try serving them in a sandwich. The fried shellfish is just heavenly when served on a soft brioche bun with herbed mayonnaise and peppery arugula.
Like almost any kind of shellfish, soft-shell crabs work wonderfully in pasta dishes, especially when paired with a light, flavorful sauce and briny capers.
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