I spent part of my youth living in Vancouver. On Saturday mornings, my mom and I would often head down to the Steveston docks where the fishermen sold their catch. Among the many wonderful things we’d bring home were long, gangly Alaskan king crab legs that we steamed and ate like lobster with drawn garlic butter. Other times we got saucer-shaped Dungeness crabs that we steamed and shelled before forming the meat into crab cakes that we pan-fried and served with tartar sauce. Delish!
Despite my love of crab, until last weekend I had never tasted soft shell crab. Martin brought some home to serve at a dinner party we hosted and I couldn’t believe how easy they were to prepare – no shells to crack, no cut fingers, no splashy juices on the cupboards!
Here’s what Martin did:
He snipped off the front of each crab behind the eyes. Then he dipped each one into beaten egg before dredging it in flour and seasoning with salt and pepper. Then he tossed the crabs into a shallow pool of canola oil, heated almost until it was smoking. He browned the crabs on both sides and we ate them – shells, guts and all – with sliced watermelon. Easiest. Appetizer. Ever!
Since our party, I’ve done a little investigating and I can tell you a few more facts about soft shell crab:
- They are usually blue crabs and the season lasts from May to July.
- As the crabs grow larger at this time of year, their shells cannot expand so they molt their exterior and have a soft covering for a few days as their new shell develops; that’s why you can eat them whole.
- The best soft shell crab comes from Chesapeake Bay but there are edible soft shell crabs in the Gulf of Mexico, too.
- The crabs should be kept alive until cooking so buy them packed in straw covered ice so that they are very cold but never frozen.
Although it didn’t bother most of us to eat the entire soft shell crab, eating them innards and all freaked two of our guests out. And I can imagine that some of you are grossed out that we cut into them while still alive. Are we barbarians? Or, could you prepare and eat a soft shell crab, too?
PS: If you’re hungry for more info about soft shell crabs, you can check out this story in last week’s Washington Post; however, you may need a subscription to view it.