|Soft Shell Crabs
of the globe has food products prized because they are local, taste great,
are easy to prepare and, as a result over time, serve to define both the
region and its people. "Soul food," if you will. On the eastern
shore of Maryland lies the Chesapeake Bay, an Atlantic Ocean inlet extending
200 miles inland while spanning 40 miles across. It's big.
The Blue Crab is the prize catch in the Chesapeake. Like other crabs,
it sheds its shell now and then to grow a bigger one. This takes
a few days. Eons ago, some indian waterman, observing long-legged
birds feeding in the shallows, discovered that during those few days the
Blue Crab was good eating--body, shell, claws and all. Waterman on the
Bay have been bringing soft shell crabs to market ever since. They
are seasonal from May through July but never in great abundance.
Urban fish mongers get $3 to $5 apiece for soft-shell crab. And worth
The preparation of this delicacy should be uncomplicated. The
objective is to serve a crab with a crisped shell and belly, nicely browned,
and a juicy and meaty inside, all with a little seasoning. Sautéing
in hot oil is the best method.
Select a large heavy sauté pan big enough to hold at least two
crabs in a single layer. (I have a large high-wall Calphalon pan
bought for the purpose of preparing four large soft-shell crabs at a time.)
Yield: 2 servings
See abbreviations if necessary
1. Have your fish monger clean 4 fresh soft-shell crabs. Or
better still, have him show you how to clean them and then take them home
alive to clean yourself just before preparation
3T Wondra flour or AP flour (see
1t Ancho or Chipotle powder
or a pinch of cayenne powder (see note b.)
S/P quite generous
4 large soft-shell
2T peanut or grapeseed oil
2. In a stainless steel bowl, mix together the cornmeal, Wondra
flour, pepper powder and S/P
3. Clean and dry the crabs
4. Place the crabs, one at a time, in the dry mix and dredge
each thoroughly--top shell, under "the wings," belly and claws
5. Shake off excess mix and set each aside neatly
6. Add the oil to the sauté pan and bring it to high heat
(see note c.)
7. When the oil is hot (test to sizzle with a bit of the dry
mix), lower each of the crabs into the pan carefully, belly side down
8. Sauté for about 2-3 minutes. Check the undersides
and turn them when they're nicely browned
9. Sauté the shell side for another 3 minutes
10. Serve immediately on heated plates with a side of Rémoulade
Sauce, Salsa or Tartar Sauce,
or serve as a sandwich with sour dough bread and mayo
a. Wondra flour browns more quickly and better than AP flour.
It's the flour of choice here.
b. A little pepper seasoning in the crust, along with the S/P
gives the crab a better bite. A squirt of Tennessee
Sunshine on each belly at Step 8 works, but don't over do it.
c. Make sure the oil is hot enough to make the crabs sizzle with
enthusiasm, but not pop and spit (too hot).
d. Crabs in photo courtesy of Gary at American Seafood in Arlington,