Where can I find the BEST soft shell crab??
This is great advice (though perhaps more appropriately posted on the Home Cooking page) and I appreciate it!
However, I have indeed bought fresh, live softshell crabs (but alas not this season: just kept missing them) at Bill's and a few other places around town. So I think you can gettem, you just need to know when and where.
The best softshell in Toronto is gonna come from your kitchen if you follow my directions. First, get it through your head that EVERY softshell crab you eat here has spent most of its life frozen solid. Even in season - no one is shipping fresh softshells to Toronto. Softshells hate to travel, especially if you are one of those who has to have the fishmonger clean them for you. Again, no problem if you pay attention to what follows.
You know those tempura softshells you pay ten bucks each for at every good sushi joint in town? Hacked into four pieces, a little lemon and salt, and they're gone before you can refill your sake glass? We can do better than that.
If you can hold your nose long enough to find the freezer section in any of the big Chinese markets on Spadina or Gerrard E of Broadview, and dig through the vac-packed seafood, you will find the exact same Thai softshells frozen in packages of three for under five bucks. Just trust me and go track one down, all right? While you're there, splurge on a box of tempura batter (Hime is the choice for $2) and some panko breadcrumbs, whatever kind's cheapest. You'll also need peanut, sunflower or vegetable oil and a couple of lemons. And don't forget salt and pepper if your cupboard is really pathetic.
Let your little package thaw out in the fridge overnight or on the counter for three hours. Put the sake in the fridge. When you unwrap all the plastic packaging around what looked a lot like three hockey pucks, you will be amazed to see three perfect softshells unfold for you like giant tarantulas. Wave them around the kitchen at your family to get them screaming. Now stop laughing and concentrate, because you have to clean them. Grab your scissors and snip off the face (yes those are the eyes), then open the little flaps on either side of the body and tweak out the gills (those ugly fibrous grey things, you'll see). Do not remove the guts or anything else - that's what tastes good. Give 'em a good rinse. Now pay attention here: stick those crabs between some paper towels and firmly press all the water out of them. If you don't they will explode when you cook them and you will find yourself running screaming around the kitchen with huge searing red grease burns on your face, arms and chest.
Dump some batter mix in a bowl and whisk in a couple ounces of cold beer. Stir just til it's mixed, not too much. Pour some panko crumbs out on a plate. Get your frying setup ready - I like to use a cast iron frying pan outside on the barbeque so the house doesn't get stunk up like fried stuff for the next week. A quarter-inch of oil is all you need and you want it good and hot, just starting to shimmer. Grab those crabs one at a time, swab them through your batter and lay them in the panko. Get all three in there and make sure they're nicely coated. Grab your tongs and take the whole plate to the pan. Lay them in your oil nice and easy - if they start going brown right away, kill your heat. You're looking for a golden toasted finish on your coating - about 4-6 minutes total cooking time including one turn. As soon as they're done, flip them onto a plate covered with paper towels and get them to your plating area pronto. Don't get fancy - this dish is all about the crabs, baby. Slip them onto the plates, grab your biggest knife and quarter them authoritatively. Serve 'em up with a half a lemon, a sprinkle of coarse sea salt and a grind of pepper. Congrats - you just matched the best tempura crabs in town and pocketed $25 bucks plus tax and tip. Sowbelly salutes you, chef.