For a very short time in late spring and early summer, crabs molt their hard shells and become soft and delicate. Their bodies become almost fully edible and can be cooked in a variety of ways that effortlessly result in a succulently delicious summertime meal. Here are a few cooking tips and crab recipes that will allow you to savoringly sink your teeth into these crustacean delicacies.
Soft shell crab basics
What are soft shell crabs?
Soft shell crabs are crabs (typically blue crabs) that do not have their hard outer shell. Soft shell crabs lose their shell when they molt during certain months of the year, usually from early May to late July, and are left with only a very thin layer covering their insides.
Soft shell crabs are considered a delicacy because they must be caught and eaten (unless killed and frozen) within four days of molting. Just about the entire body of the crab can be eaten whole, and unlike hard shell crabs, you don’t have to hassle with picking out the meat.
Buy crabs ultra fresh
Buying soft shell crabs is just like buying regular hard shelled crabs, you want them as fresh as possible and alive. If live soft shell crabs are unavailable, you can opt for frozen crabs. Frozen crabs are typically frozen soon as they are caught, preserving their fresh briny taste. If you acquire fresh live crabs, be sure to cook them shortly after purchase.
Soft shell crabs usually weigh from two to six ounces. When purchasing, medium-sized crabs are typically your best choice. As a general rule, the bigger the crab, the tougher the meat.
Cleaning crabs is easy
Soft shell crabs are simple to clean. All you have to do is rinse them off in cold water, then snip off the front part of the crab just behind the eyes and mouth in order to squeeze out the unwanted guts inside. Next, remove the gills that are underneath the pointy sides of the shell. Finally, flip the crab over and cut off the small tough flap. Rinse one last time and cook or store in plastic wrap in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Soft shell crabs are deliciously versatile
Soft shell crabs can be cooked in a variety of ways. One of the most common is breaded and fried crisply and either eaten as is or in a sandwich. The delicate crustaceans can also be sautÃ©ed, broiled or grilled, but keep an eye on them since they cook quite quickly. You can add cooked crabs to an omelet, salad, sandwich, pasta, soup, or other dishes in which crab sounds good to you.
Soft shell crab recipes
Fried Soft Shell Crabs
Makes 2 servings
4 soft shell crabs
1/2 cup milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Oil for frying
1. Rinse and clean crabs as directed above. In a shallow dish, whisk egg with milk. In a second shallow dish, combine flour with salt and pepper.
2. Heat oil in a deep skillet until about 365 degrees F. Dip crabs in flour, then in egg mixture, then in flour. Place crabs in oil and cook until golden brown.
3. Remove crabs with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Serve with tartar or cocktail sauce.
SautÃ©ed Soft Shell Crabs
Makes 3 servings
1 cup melted butter
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 strips bacon, fried crisp, drained, and crumbled
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Pinch Worcestershire sauce
6 soft shell crabs
1. Combine butter with lemon juice, oil, bacon, salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce in a frying pan and heat. Place crabs in mixture and cooked until crabs are heated through. Continue cooking sauce until it simmers.
2. Remove crabs from stove and place on a broiler pan. Cook under a broiler for a few minutes until crispy on both sides. Remove and serve with sauce from pan.
Grilled Soft Shell Crabs
Makes 3 servings
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon tarragon leaves
1/8 teaspoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
6 soft-shell crabs
1. Preheat grill to medium heat. Whisk oil with vinegar, salt, tarragon, lemon juice and garlic powder.
2. Brush mixture onto crabs and place crabs on grill. Cook on both sides for about 10 minutes total.