Soft Shell crabs hail from the waters off of Maryland and are truly a delicacy. Typically they are prepared in one of two simple ways: sauteed in olive oil or clarifed butter, or deep-fried in oil. They can be seasoned with nothing or dusted with flour or dipped in a batter. Because of their soft shell they require little cooking time and of course the shell (everything) is edible. The season for this type of crab runs from about mid-May through the summer.
I picked up these two crabbies up at Ferry Plaza Seafood inside the San Francisco Ferry Building. Before they can be cooked, however, you neeed to clean them. It’s relatively simple. First, pick up your crab in one hand and, using scissors or kitchen shears, cut off the front of the crab (about 1/2 inch behind the eyes and mouth. Squeeze out the conents inside the sack behind the cut you just made.
Next lift up the 2 points on either side of the crab’s shell and pull out the gills and discard.
Now turn the crab over and cut off the small flap called the “apron.” Rinse the entire crab and pat dry with a clean towel. The crab is now ready for cooking…or you can wrap in plastic and store in a cold refrigerator for up to one more day.
Ideally you want live crabs. If they are moribund they start to decompose and can be distasteful. After you’ve cleaned them they will die right away. I like to cook them right away after cleaning. To check if your crab is fresh and tasty good, smell the underbelly. It should smell clean and astringent, like sea mist.
Here’s how I prepared mine. I put a small amount of flour (a cup) into a bowl and seasoned with salt and pepper. Then I took a medium sautee pan and filled with 1/4 inch of good quality olive oil over a high flame.
Then I dipped the crabs into the flour mix and shook each one gently to release any excess. Once the oil was very hot (but not smoking) I added each crab to the sautee pan. I cooked each side for approximately 2 – 2.5 minutes.
Lastly I transferred my crabs to paper towels and let rest for 30 seconds. I plated each crab over a simple salad of mixed greens. A little lemon aioli would also go really well with this dish.
James is a food writer and Bay Area chef who owns and runs a private dinner party and cooking class business specializing in regional Italian and Spanish cuisine. See CookWithJames.com