comments 33

Corn Meal-Crusted Soft-Shells Crabs


Do you like crab?

Would you like crab even more if it was easier to eat?

Do you like your food fried?

If you answered “yes,” soft-shell crabs are for you!

And from now until the end of summer is the time to go out and get some.

Soft-shell crabs are freshly-molted blue crabs that are plucked from the water and put on ice before their shells harden up. They are delicious. Blue crab meat is sugary sweet and you can eat the whole animal right after it molts, shell and all.

Admittedly, the first time that I cooked a soft-shell crab, I was a little squeamish. I mean, how can you not be? Ideally, you should bring the suckers home alive, but it’s pretty hard to determine if they are dead or not because freshly molted crabs never look alive . . . until they swivel one of their telescopic eyeballs in your direction. Aaaaah!

Ideally, you should clean and trim them yourself, but I don’t fault anyone for having their fishmonger do it for them. If your fishmonger trims and cleans your crabs for you, you should cook them the same day that you buy them.

To properly trim and clean a soft shell crab, first you need to snip off those swivelly eyeballs by removing its face with a good pair of scissors. Then, you need to trim the tail off its backside. Finally, you have to gently separate the top shell from the bottom shell on both sides of the crab to rip out its lungs. Why do you have to do this? Because the lungs taste disgusting, you don’t want to eat the gucky stuff in and around the tail, and if you don’t remove the eyeballs, they can explode during cooking and injure you.

I just sold you on them, didn’t I?

But prepping soft-shell crabs is really pretty simple and not as bad as I made it sound. The rewards far outweigh any ickiness. Soft-shell crabs taste wonderful and they are a quick, elegant meal to put together.

A word on frying them: make sure that your frying fat is nice and hot. Test it by sprinkling a little flour into the fat. If it sizzles and turns golden, you are ready to cook yourself some crab. Keep your frying fat hot by not overcrowding the pan. If the temperature of the oil drops, your crabs will be soggy and greasy instead of crispy and light. If you are making soft-shell crabs for a crowd, fry them in batches and keep them warm in a 300° oven on a wire rack-topped baking sheet.

Many people like to serve soft-shell crabs with a remoulade or some kind of spicy mayonnaise. If it’s prime soft-shell crab season, I like to let the sweet crab meat shine on its own with just a shower of good finishing salt and a spritz of lemon.

Ingredients:

1/4 cup of yellow corn meal

1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt

1 pinch of cayenne pepper

2 soft shell crabs, trimmed and cleaned (you can watch Bittman demo it here)

4 tablespoons of butter

2 tablespoons of olive oil

Lemon wedges

How to prepare:

1. Combine the corn meal, the salt and the cayenne pepper together in a large shallow bowl or plate.

2. Heat the butter and olive oil together over medium-high heat in a large cast-iron skillet. When the butter begins to foam, rinse each crab with water and dredge it through the corn meal mixture. Gently shake off any excess corn meal and add the crab — top side-down — to the pan. Repeat with the other crab.

3. Fry the crabs until they are browned and golden, about 3-4 minutes per side. They should be plumped up and firm when they are done. When the crabs are finished cooking (they will not take longer than 8 minutes total), remove them to a paper towel-lined plate to drain for a minute or two before serving.

Serve with a spritz of lemon and a sprinkle of good salt.

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33 Comments

    • It’s funny that you ask because last night, one of the crabs’s little spindly legs popped, sending a jet of hot oil and crab juice my way. Imagine if it were an eyeball!

      Deadly!

      (but in answer to your question, I never forget to trim off the face 😉 )

  1. I ab-so-lute-ly love soft shell crabs! Exactly the way you made them! Fabulous! Of course, if I can find them here, the fishmonger will be protecting me from exploding eyeball injury and lung indigestion. Really beautiful Daisy.

    • Thanks, Rosemary! I am glad that your fishmonger protects you from the possibility of injury! That is a good fishmonger 🙂 I feel like good fishmongers are getting harder and harder to find, and if you have one you really like — and it sounds like you do — that definitely a relationship to cultivate!

  2. Well, your description hasn’t really persuaded me to try this at home. But your photos are lovely! I love that they are so bright and s
    of such a consistent style. Your cookbook is going to be beautiful! 🙂

    • Really? My description of prep didn’t make you salivate?

      Just kidding 😉 I think Bittman is even darker than myself in his demo clip!

      Thanks as well for the kind words about the photos! I think like anything else, you get better the more practice you get. What I would do for natural light, though! If I ever get to the cookbook phase, I am going to get one of those fancy food stylists who will have to chase my control-freak self out of the kitchen with a wooden spoon!

  3. After leaving New England Culinary I worked in the wholesale and retail seafood industry. While working in retail I was given the job of “crab cleaner” (along with many other unsavory chores) because no one else would do it. No matter how many boxes of crabs the store bought they would always run out. Customers couldn’t get enough of them. I L.O.V.E. soft shell crabbies and the recipe you posted is my *favorite*! I heard a lot of customers say they liked to fry them and make a sandwich. (Everything is better on bread, no?) Gosh darn it all….you make me wanna eat my iPad, woman. 🙂 Great post!

    • Oh my gosh. You must be able to perform graphic crab violence with your eyes closed! When I did that internship in France, one of my first jobs was to prep these two giant tubs of scallops. I had to pop the top off, clean off the “barbe” and the other nasty bits, and then put the whole thing back together. I had no idea what the “barbe” was; I just knew that it was sticky, hard to remove, and a total pain. After covering myself (I had it in my hair, all over my arms, slopped on my clothes), I was informed that they are basically part of the filter surrounding the gonads.

      Nice.

      That was a stinky Métro ride home.

      • Eeew! What a yucky job that must have been. I hated shucking. My hand would always slip and I would always end up stabbing myself. And, yes, I can perform crabbie carnage. Kitchen scissors are the fastest and easiest way to deal with crabbies. It’s over before they know what hit them.

    • Yeah. I’m a terrible oyster shucker. Once, someone got on my case for having the fishmonger do the shucking for me instead of shucking them myself. My response? The enjoyment of oysters at home is significantly diminished if you are bleeding all over the place!

      But crabbie carnage is pretty easy to do. Kitchen shears dispatch those buggers super fast!

  4. It’s 5:49 on a Sunday night and I have not even thought about what to have for dinner. Now, I can’t stop thinking about it. Could you please fix a plate for me?

  5. I can shuck oysters with the best of them, but soft-shell crab… ooooh I had to think about this one… still thinking about it… you mean, you eat the whole thing (sans lungs)?

    Hmmm – gonna have to try it for research purposes!

    • Good for you! I wish I were a better oyster shucker. If you can do bivalve carnage, soft-shell crab violence will be a walk in the park!

      You can totally eat the whole thing! Shell and all. The shell is actually the best part. Like the crunchy outside of fried chicken! I would totally recommend it . . . for research purposes of course 😉

  6. I absolutely love this post, especially the gooey bits! I’ll get my mom to help clean them, which will be a real treat for her. 😉 Where do you buy your soft-shelled crab in NYC? I think I am going to have to cook some while I’m there! (They’ll still be in season in two weeks, right?)

    • It should still be soft-shell crab season! At least for another month or two. I got mine at Eataly on 23rd and Fifth Ave! Let them know when you buy them that you prefer to clean them yourself, otherwise their automatic instinct will be to do it for you. Where are your parents? Upper East? Upper West? Downtown?

      There might be somewhere closer to them . . .

      I can’t wait to finally meet up! Very exciting. And dangerous food-wise because that’s how we roll 😉

  7. These look so amazing. I love soft-shelled crabs and my mother was just taunting me with tales of the crabs she was planning to eat. I have to say, though, that cleaning the crabs sounded pretty intense. Brave you! At least you were richly rewarded.

    • Awwww! What a mom!

      Cleaning soft-shell crabs really isn’t as bad as it sounds. Just three steps, and as Ruby and Wheaky pointy out above, if you use sharp scissors, it’s all over before you and the crab know it.

      They are absolutely worth it though! I love crab too, but always get a little frustrated with how much the shell slows down how fast I eat. (I know. My life is so hard!) Not a problem with soft-shells!

  8. I love soft shell crabs, especially chile crabs from Singapore. I almost made myself sick eating them this January when I was there. (I was trying to hoard and gorge) I think should I ever decide to make chile crab or just regular soft shell crab at home, first I must move away from a body of water that nothing lives in…i.e. the Great Salt Lake, secondly, having my food spit in my eye with their eye might make me take up wearing crocs and becoming a Vegan…..I love this post Daisy. It was kind of epic. Made me laugh, groan and be jealous of your dinner all at the same time.

    • Singaporean chili crabs? Now you’re talking! I love anything that is just basically a vehicle for sauce!

      I once actually did make myself sick (not on chili crabs). It was in Seville. I was double-fisting foie gras tapas and sherry from about 11AM to midnight. I was so sick, I could only stay in bed being ill and sipping Coca-Cola through a straw.

      It was said at the time that only I would be the one who would OD on foie gras and sherry!

      And as long as you remember to remove its eyeballs by snipping off its face, there is no fear of taking out your eye with an eye 😉

      • I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one who goes crazy over good food.
        “snipping off its face” I want to use that in daily conversation now. like “I wouldn’t mind looking at her so much if only I could snip off her face”….you make me laugh

  9. Yummy! I love crispy soft-shelled crabs but I don’t know where to get them here in Holland. The Dutch would freak out as these crabs are too recognizable. 😉

    • Thanks Malou! It can be hard to find soft-shell crabs when where you live has a tradition of having food not look like food. What about the Asian market? My mom sometimes buys them frozen there when there are no fresh ones . . .

    • Awww! Maybe at the Asian market? Sometimes they have them frozen at Japanese markets for Spider Rolls and such. I am sending you good vibes. Maybe if I visualize hard enough, they will appear where you are 🙂

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