Crab fanatics have an array of delectable ways to enjoy the beloved crustacean's succulent meat. You can hammer and pick steamed Maryland blue crabs dusted with Old Bay, crack into clusters of crab legs, devour crab cakes, liberate lump crab cocktail from raw bar towers, or dip chilled, Florida-style stone crab claws into a traditional mustard sauce.
But soft shells—among the most coveted and elusive kind of crab—are prized for their umami-packed awesomeness without the hassle of extracting meat from a thick, prickly exterior. Softies are simply crabs who grew too big for their shells and recently molted their old exoskeleton.
Harvested when still soft, they're a treasured warm-weather treat found everywhere from Japanese and Thai restaurants to roadside seafood stands and fancy four-star eateries. Soft shells are now in season on the East Coast—where they are generally available from March through September—and they're remarkably easy to cook at home.
Joe Gurrera, owner of the Citarella gourmet market chain and author of seafood cookbook Joe Knows Fish, advises the soft-shell-curious to ask their fishmonger (or reputable online delivery source) for whole, live, cleaned soft shell crabs and to cook them as soon as possible, within 24 to 48 hours.
"Ask me what seafood I like best and I’ll tell you I love it all. Press me for an answer and I’ll admit that one of my favorites is soft-shell crabs," Gurrera says.
"Lightly sautéed, they turn golden and sweet, and the briny meat stays juicy. What could be better? The key is don’t overcook the crab. The goal is to get the soft-shell exterior nice and crispy while keeping the meat plump and tender. And yes, you eat the whole thing!"
Check out Gurrera's simple sautéed soft shell crab recipe below:
Ingredients (Serves 2):
4 whole live soft-shell crabs, cleaned
1/2 cup Wondra flour or all-purpose flour
About 1/2 cup extra- virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Rinse the crabs with cold water and pat them dry with paper towel.
Dust the crabs with flour by sprinkling a light layer onto each side and shaking off any excess.
Pour a very thin layer of olive oil into a large shallow skillet and heat over medium heat until it starts to shimmer.
Sauté the crabs for 1.5 to 2 minutes per side. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.