Nothing says summer to this Philly girl more than ‘going down the shore’ (translation: heading to southern New Jersey to go to the beach), grilling, horseshoes, and soft shell crabs. The first time I was asked to taste a soft shell crab I had to ask my dad what the f it meant. “You mean to tell me that seemingly normal-looking crab doesn’t need to be cracked and the meat picked out? You’re telling me I just eat the freaking shell? I take a bite out of it?” It was just difficult to wrap my head around this idea. I moved in cautiously… very cautiously. I could begin to hear imaginary bits of my teeth chipping off as I bit into it. But then it happened – I bit and my love affair with this seasonal delicacy officially began.
So, if you’ve never really had a fresh soft-shell or even saw one in person before (and if you are still reading), you may be curious as to what the hell is going on here. Well, a soft-shell crab is a crab that has been caught right after they have molted, or shed, their hard shell in order to grow a new, bigger one, and this only happens during a very short time each year. For a really intelligent explanation of this, please listen to our brilliant podcast associated with this post (note: we were a bit drunk on wine when we recorded this one).
Even though I feel that soft-shell crabs are all for me, only available in my neck of the woods (the Mid-Atlantic US), I am happy to report to all of you that they are also available in many parts of Asia. There is one big difference – the crab. Here in the Mid-Atlantic, our soft-shells are from the sweet, meaty and popular blue claw crab. In Asia, soft-shells mean using the mangrove crab. Maybe you’ve been offered various types of fried soft-shells at your local Thai or Japanese restaurant?
When you buy a fresh soft-shell crab, you will notice that it has either been cleaned or not. If you’re squeamish, stop reading now. Basically the fishmongers remove their gills and (gasp!) cut off their faces. Ok, they cut off their face first in order to kill them – poor soft-shells. If you can’t get your fishmonger to do this for you, follow these instructions and do it yourself. Do you have the heart? According to this article, people don’t often make soft-shells at home because they think it takes a long time to prepare. I’m here to assure you, they don’t. Grab your sharp knife or you kitchen shears and git down to cuttin’ off some faces! Go on, girl (or boy)!
As I mentioned earlier, soft-shell crabs are very seasonal as their molting time only happens between May and July (at the latest). So, hurry and get yourself some fresh soft-shell crabs soon and please give this dish, one I consider one of the best and most simple preparations, a try. Serve it with a side of long pasta – our choice is olio e aglio, or pasta with olive oil and garlic. Just make sure to slowly infuse your garlic on medium-low heat in the olive oil for about 20 minutes or more for the most strong garlic flavor! You could also give our Soft Shell Crab Sandwich with Pepper Aioli and Capers a try! We used our leftovers from this dish to make it. Now, get out and ask for soft-shells!
SOFT-SHELL BLUE CRABS IN BUTTER AND GARLIC (Serves 2)
- 4 soft-shell blue crabs, cleaned
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 5 -8 cloves (depending on your love of garlic) of garlic, thinly sliced
- pinch of salt
- 1 cup of flour
- some pepperoncino
What to do:
- Dredge your crabs in a bit of flour and pat excess off and allow to rest until needed.
- Put butter and olive oil in a pan and heat on medium to medium-low.
- When butter melts, add your thinly sliced garlic and saute lightly until the garlic gets a bit golden in color. Remove garlic with a slotted spoon and reserve on the side.
- Add your soft-shells to the pan with the butter/oil mixture and saute on medium until the crabs are red all over. Make sure to flip them on to both sides to allow to evenly cook – about 4 or 5 minutes each side.
- Remove crabs from oil and place on plate. Add the garlic back to the pan, add a pinch of salt and then drizzle the crabs with the garlic/butter and oil. Sprinkle with some peperoncino.
- Serve with some pasta olio e aglio (spaghetti with garlic and olive oil) or pasta with red sauce. Enjoy!
****Stay tuned for another recipe using the soft-shell leftovers!
Check out these other posts you may enjoy:
- FRITO MISTO DI MARE (FRIED MIXED SEAFOOD AND VEGGIES)
- POLLO EN PEPITORIA “KINDA” (HAZELNUT CRUSTED CHICKEN IN A FINO SHERRY, SAFFRON AND HAZELNUT SAUCE)
- CUBAN SANDWICH
- MORCILLA (SPANISH SAUSAGE) STUFFED GRILLED SQUID WITH A SPICY SAUCE
38 thoughts on “I’ve Got (Soft-Shell) Crabs: A Mid-Atlantic Delicacy & A Podcast”
*moan* I haven’t had softshell crabs in ages! Yours look truly delectable.
Thanks for the primer on soft-shell. Soft-shells are a dream come true for a lazy eater like me. Although, crabs in their shells are also too good to pass.
Butter, garlic, crabs — how can you go wrong?
You know being from Maryland I have always loved my crab. Never got into the soft shell crab until a few years ago. They are so delicious. No one else share my passion so I dont have to share. I would love to purchase fresh and make a dish. Yourssloos so damn good righ now. I like thetop pick. The crabs are having a party;-0.
I’ve never had soft shell before, def need to remedy that. For some reason as I was reading your directions, I picture myself flipping the craps in the pan like pancakes. MMM crab pancakes. Is that wrong?
I’ve had softshell crab in sushi rolls, loved them and this past winter, I found some frozen ones at the Asian market and you’ve now confirmed they are a different species.
I screwed up the breading but they were still very good. I now will vicariously eat some crab right here, right now through your blog.
PS. South Jersey shore…beautiful area.
Pleeeeease do more podcasts while drinking wine – that was fantastic listening! I particularly love the way you broke down halfway through and stopped trying to say “Blue Claw Crab”…and just went with “Blue Crab.”
I’ve tried soft-shell crabs only once since moving to the East Coast…and it did NOT go well. I suppose it’s because I didn’t have your recipe! And being a native Californian, I had never seen them in a restaurant or in a fish shop before. Will absolutely try them again.
A drunken podcast? Excellent idea. I love listening to foodie podcasts while working out. Sort of torture on top of torture. You know – exercising while salivating for food (I hate working out).
Echoing eatingclub vancover’s comment, I super-appreciate the crab lesson. Never knew you had to cut off their faces…cool.
i had a similar reaction when i learned that soft-shell crab even existed on this planet. wtf? but, i have since learned that people are crazed for it, some more crazed than others. i imagine people heading in droves to the beaches and what not, arms out zombie-style to get them some ssc…although i am pretty sure that isn’t how it really goes down, but that is what i like to think. however living in the desert does not allow me much of a chance to try it out.
and…thanks for visiting my blog!
Soft shell crab is so YUM! And with garlic and butter…simply delicious.
Awesome! I loooove blue crabs, but I never eat them because they’re such a pain to eat. Not sure if the softshell crabs I’ve had are the blue ones or mangrove, but I am so going to scour the fish markets in manhattan for these. Where did you get yours?
Aaah, soft-shell crabs! One of my favorite things in the world! If I could, I’d eat them every day and prepare them exactly as you have here. They look wonderful!
I would go for them! Sure! They look so apetitosos and the sauce is perfect!!! Never seen these ones here though, but they look very similar to ones you’ll soon see in my blog (next week), actually I don’t eat the shell, just smash it with my teeth and palate to squeeze the crab and take the juices out… MMmmmmm such a delish!
I love softshell crab! Didn’t know that’s how they are ‘prepared’ though…but as a child I’d watch my dad dispense with lobsters by sticking a chopstick up its backside all the way up, then throwing it into a boiling pot of water. Not nice to watch, but always delicious afterwards (Cantonese style with ginger and spring onion of course!)
hey, guys! ahhh, i love the response soft-shells get. i’m feeling the love and I’m glad it’s b/c of these beauties.
coco: i share your passion so if we ever get together we’ll have to fight over them!
adam: dude, you’re on to something!!!! softshell crab pancakes… why the hell not? you could smother soft shells in, ok, i must stop myself before i say something i don’t mean. i would not eat soft shell crabs smothered in dog shit. i don’t care how much i love them. i won’t do it. but pancakes, yes.
peter: thanks for the props on the jersey shore. jersey gets a bad rap, but, really, most of it is a really beautiful state. the ‘breading’ is imporant to me. in fact, i hate breading on my softshells – it masks the taste of them. just a tiny bit of flour to thicken the sauce and i’m good to go.
laura: HA! you noticed. god, sometimes it’s soooo much effort w/ 2 bottles of wine down to just say ‘blue claw crabs’ – it’s hard to say sober! you got me, girl!! i am curious how you had your soft shells the only time you did eat them. plain? uncooked? did it horse poo? just curious…
jen: we’re totally working out why you can’t download the podcasts – it’s so funny you mentioned the working out while listening to food podcasts… we listen to ours on our 3 hour drives down to the shore at like midnight and we arrive STARVING and all there is to eat is cheetos, mixed nuts and olestra potato chips. i get very sad!
cindy: HA HA HA HA! You totally made me laugh b/c i think i would be one of the zombies! great imagery. please stop back again.
marc – i’d love to hear what you think. remember, it may be an acquired taste only b/c you have to just get used to eating the shell. but you’re adventurous. you know, right now you shouldn’t have that much of a problem getting softshells. call around to your local fish monger and ask if they have them. if you want to come to brooklyn (park slope) i KNOW has them – Ocean Fish Market on 7th ave and 3rd street. they should run about $5 to $6 for one. i know, they are expensive! good luck and let me know what you think.
Times like this make me wish that I lived closer to the coast! Mmm. There’s nothing better than a nice fried softshell crab sandwich…
Nice, fresh, soft shell crabs are nearly impossible to find here in Wisconsin. In fact, my first experience buying them was a complete disaster (the poor little guys had been packed in plastic… and Ignorant Me bought them anyhow!). THAT was a bad experience.
Wow am I Jealous! That looks and sounds amazing..just love it.
I have been DYING to make soft shell crabs for my husband. He loves crabmeat, but doesn’t like the “work” involved with picking crustaceans. He’s never had soft shell crab and I’m sure he would love it. I collect recipes for them.
BUT…I can never find them. Markets in my area don’t sell them. Occasionally Stew Leonards has them, but they’re always pre-breaded. I like to make my own creations (besides, Stew’s oversalts everything). Occasionally the big fish market down the street from where I live has them, but they’re never open when I can get to them. It’s not fair!
If I ever find any, I’m trying your reciepe!
Okay, I am convinced. I love soft shell crabs. I’ve never attempted making them at home however… but these look too good to pass up. Do you have any suggestions for a reliable place to get really fresh crabs?
Never mind! I just read your reply to marc. I’m quite to close to 7th Ave and 3rd STreet so will definitely take your suggestion!
Oh yum – I LOVE soft shell crabs. I want them NOW. We sometimes fry them and roll them up with avocado and other stuff in a maki roll, or make sandwiches (again fried) on fresh bread with fresh arugula and some spicy kind of sauce that we make up differently each time. Heaven.
After I cut them off, I like to wear their faces on my face; then I can watch the crabs watching me wear their faces THROUGH their faces. It makes them taste better.
Martha Stewart taught me that in prison.
My husband had soft shell crab in Portland about 3 years ago and still talks about it! I should surprise him by making some. Thanks for the inspiration. 🙂
I have never tried cooking a full crab. It sounds interesting and makes for some nice pictures.
shhhh, peter. I thought I was the only one to do that.
you’re f’ing crazy!
lo, i shudder to think about your 1st experience w/ the crabs. scary!
rachel, call a fish monger – there’s got to be some up your way (you’re in w. chester, right?? or long island??). also, see if there is a chinese or japanese market. they may order them too.
cooking panda – we have go to do a brooklyn blogger get together at some point in the future. it’s crazy to think how close some of us are. we prob. pass each other on the street – freaky.
jane – stay tuned to our ‘what to do w/ leftover soft-shells’ post coming soon. your sammie sound delicious!
thanks susan for the comment!
Looks delicious! I grew up in MD, so we are both from a “crabby culture” LOL! Anyway. I had the same experience the first time I had a soft shell crab – but it was so worth the confusion as they are just so delicious!
I’ve never had a soft-shelled crab, being from Dungeness country. I still can’t wrap my mind around straight chomping a crab, but I want to learn. Oh, how I want to learn!
Hello!! Love your blog – all these mouth-watering photos and recipes. I love soft-shell crab and would order it at restaurants whenever it is in season, even when it is cooked from frozen, although not as good, I am so desperate to have some that I still enjoy it. I never thought of making it myself, so thanks for all the tips. I will have to check when is the season for it here in Australia and make sure that I experiment with a few dishes when I can get fresh ones.
Have a great weekend,
p/s: thanks for dropping by my blog 🙂
I willing to give them another try after hearing your pod cast (btw, your voices are great together!!) and your great your love for them. I have to admit the first time I tried them I remember the flavor being good, but it was hard to get past the fact that I was eating the shell, it all seemed a little weird to me.
I do not have the heart to kill the poor buggers, but they sure are tasty! Maryland crab, which is what I get in my neck of the woods, is amazing stuff. Thanks for stopping by my blog – come back any time!
Wow! I’ve only made these once. Your dish looks delicious!
Okay, if my fishmonger has any left, I’m making some when D gets back from Paris. OTOH… maybe since D got to go to Paris he doesn’t DESERVE softshell crabs.
I love soft shell crabs!! I’ve never seen them raw like u shown in your pic, pretty scary hee. After seeing your post, I feel like buying some frozen ones 2 prepare at home 🙂
wow that looks good, the softshell crabs, not the penis’s!
are you going to be down the shore for the 4th? i will be at my mom’s, you guys should cook for me & nicole…..8-)
Oh you are so right, these are a delicacy! Garlic and Butter perfect.
OMG I didnt think soft shells would get such a response-but now I want them- cant wait!!