3 Soft-shell crab recipes

Cornmeal crusted soft crab

When soft-shell crabs come into season, we just can't make them too many times. Whether we're pan-frying them, serving them in a sandwich or on top of pasta, they are always a special treat. And they are only in season for a short time, so indulge while you can!

Soft-shell crab season is officially here!

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:

Cornmeal-crusted soft-shell crabs recipe

Pan-fried soft-shell crabs are lovely when served over a spring vegetable succotash or simply with a side of roasted asparagus.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 soft-shell crabs, cleaned
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

Directions:

  1. Whisk together the eggs in a shallow baking dish. Combine the flour, cornmeal, cumin, cayenne and salt in a separate shallow baking dish.
  2. Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy bottomed skillet over medium-high heat.
  3. Working with one crab at a time, dip the crab in the egg mixture and then in the cornmeal and flour mixture, making sure the crab is completely coated. Shake off the excess cornmeal and place it on another plate. Repeat with all of your crabs. Place the crabs in the hot pan, shell side down. Note: Since the crab contains pockets of moisture, be sure to place a splatter screen over the pan, as the moisture may cause popping.
  4. Fry for about three to four minutes, or until nicely browned. Flip the crabs over and cook on the other side for another two to three minutes.
  5. Remove from the pan and let them drain on a paper-towel-lined plate for about a minute and serve.

Soft-shell crab sandwich with arugula and herbed mayonnaise recipe

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.

Soft shell crab sandwich with arugula and herbed mayonnaise

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 cornmeal fried soft-shell crabs (see recipe above)
  • 4 brioche buns
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon tarragon, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon chives, chopped
  • Handful of arugula

Directions:

  1. Slice the brioche buns in half and butter the cut sides. Place them on a hot grill pan or cast iron skillet, buttered side down, until toasted. Remove from the heat.
  2. In the meantime, combine the mayonnaise, parsley, tarragon and chives in a small bowl. Serve the pan-fried crabs on the buns with the herbed mayonnaise and arugula.

Soft-shell crabs and spaghetti in caper white wine sauce recipe

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.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 soft-shell crabs, cleaned
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 3 tablespoons capers
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Directions:

  1. Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve at least one cup of the starchy pasta water before draining the pasta.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, heat the vegetable oil in a heavy bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Season the crabs with salt and pepper and place them shell side down in the hot oil. Note: Since the crab contains pockets of moisture, be sure to place a splatter screen over the pan, as the moisture may cause popping.
  3. Fry for about three to four minutes, or until nicely browned. Flip the crabs over and cook on the other side for another two to three minutes.
  4. Remove from the pan and let them drain on a paper-towel-lined plate.
  5. Reduce the heat on the pan to medium and add the garlic and crushed red pepper to the pan. As soon as the garlic starts to brown, add the white wine and stir to incorporate all the bits from the bottom of the pan into your sauce. Add in the capers and continue to cook until the wine is reduced by half. Stir in the butter and then toss the sauce with the cooked spaghetti and parsley, adding in a little of the reserved pasta water if the sauce looks dry.
  6. Serve the spaghetti topped with the sauteed soft-shell crabs.

More shellfish recipes

Lobster, shrimp and scallop cioppino
Shrimp and lobster in wine sauce
Steamed mussels in Pastis

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