Last week we looked at ramps
, this week our Spring ingredient celebration continues with soft shell crabs
What they are:
A soft shell crab is any crab that has recently molted its old exoskeleton and remains very soft. In the US, these are mostly blue crabs that molt and hit the market in the spring. After they molt their old shell, they can begin growing a new shell within 4 days. It starts to get papery, then gets tougher as time goes by so they need to hit the market quickly. What this means for eating, is that the sweet briny meat, normally so difficult to get at, it immediately accessible. And yes, you eat the whole thing, soft shell and all.
How to use them:
The most important step of preparing good softies is to make sure you start with fresh, soft crabs. Buy them from a reputable market, make sure they still look lively (that's right-they should be alive when you get them), and make sure their shells haven't started to toughen up. And of course, make sure they smell good. Your fish monger will usually offer to clean them for you, but they'll be much better if you clean them right before cooking. To do that, use kitchen shears to clip the face off just behind the eyes, then remove the gills under each side of the shell, and finally clip off the apron on the backside. It's typical to dredge them in AP flour (rice flour is a great alternative too), though at Gramercy Tavern
we would simply season and grill on the wood fire till they crisp up.
What some chefs are doing with them right now:
When softies are in season, you'll find them on menus everywhere. The Diving Horse
in Avalon, New Jersey is serving them up with a tangy cauliflower caponata and Cerignola olives. At Catch 54
in Fenwick Island, Delaware look for pairs of crunchy flash-fried soft-shells. In New York we had a great lunch special from Cull & Pistol
at the Chelsea Market — a grilled soft-shell crab sandwich topped with pickled white asparagus, Boston lettuce, and rhubarb
mayo, all piled on toasted ciabatta. In Los Angeles, WP24 by Wolfgang Puck
is currently serving crispy softies, wok-fried with Thai red curry, corn, and basil and at Son of a Gun
,i they have soft shells that are tempura fried and served with pork belly and a soy ginger cucumber salad.
In New Orleans Mayas
has a soft-shell crab crusted with panko crumbs and sesame seeds, served on a bed of mixed greens with mango-jalapeno salsa, pico de gallo and a soy-lime sauce. In Chicago at Epic
the Chesapeake soft shell crabs get soaked in buttermilk, lightly dusted with starch and pan-fried until crispy then served in an earthy morel bisque of morel mushrooms in their own reduction finished with shallots, butter and cream. We are also seeing a lot of soft shell crab BLTs like the one at The Chicago Firehouse
which pairs the softies with applewood smoked bacon, beefsteak tomato slices, baby arugula and placed on a brioche bun with lemon aioli.
What great soft shell crab dishes are we missing? Let us know how you are serving them, and any must try dishes you have come across.