Jun 25th, 2008 by Amy
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!
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