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Softshell Crabs

I've eaten and prepared softshell crabs for over 20 years exclusively fried: battered; sauteed; flour dusted, deep fried, every kind of sauce and my favorite of lemon butter sauce. And over the last two weekends the SO brought home some softshell crabs and we fried them as usual, one time dipped in egg wash then flour dip and the other just dusted with flour and sauteed in butter. Ummm...
But I began wondering and started looking through our cookbooks and couldn't find a Non-frying recipe for softshell crabs. Asian, American, French, Italian. Now, I know one of the main reasons softshell crabs are so wonderful is because the soft shell gets so delicious when it's fried, but can the chowhounds come up with a Non-fried recipe for softshell crabs? heh.

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    1. re: hill food

      hahaha I thought so. fried it is, yeah?

    2. I haven't had it any other way, but i'm thinking I saw them grilled on TV, probably food network.

      1 Reply
      1. re: ESNY

        That was my first thought, dry heat and charcoal. But a spicy glaze or a BBQ-type baste to try to get at least a crunchy shell. cool.

      2. I have seen a grilled ssc recipe before but I don't think I could go that route. Ssc, coated and fried and slapped between 2 slices of Wonder Bread with real mayo and a crisp leaf of iceberg lettuce is as close to nirvana and a warm freshly picked and sliced tomato in a sandwich in August.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Candy

          Candy, it's not fair for you to post this in April ;-). So hungry now!

          1. re: MMRuth

            April treats hmmm...Well I am sipping a real honest to God Coke made with sugar. Pikawicca and I are wondering if Kroger got it in from Mexico for Passover and the locals did not know not to stock it in the Mexican Food aisle instead of with the Passover foods. Shad roe is about to become available. It is just about that time. SSC will be on the heels of the shad roe. I guess everything in season but I sure could go for an August " 'mater samwich" . It will soon be time to get the plants in the ground. I've got a lovely little rack of spring lamb for tonight and maybe some asparagus. That is good April food.

          2. re: Candy

            yumm! Here's an idea: still fried but what if I stuff something under the soft shell and then fry it (either dipped or sauteed). like a little bit of bread crumbs with parsley and lemon zest. or a lobster mousee? This is veering into the blasphemous, yeah? hehe.

            1. re: Candy

              You're so right. 20 years ago in New York City there was a mob restaurant down on the pre-renovated waterfront that sold that very combo, minus the lettuce leaf and with a short beer --for a dollar. And sometimes I had trouble finding the dollar!!!

              It's still my favorite springtime treat!

            2. They just wouldn't taste the same if they weren't pan or deep fried. BTW, a word of caution to first-timers trying to deep-fry soft-shells at home. About one in every 5 or 6 that you fry will explode. Air pockets in the cavity take about 30 to 45 seconds to superheat and if there is no escape route...kablooey! If you are standing over them, you can get a face full of hot oil droplets. It happened to me twice. Always put a platter screen over the softshells immediately after they go in the deep fry and/ or keep your distance.

              1 Reply
              1. re: HSBSteveM

                Yeah man, I know, I know, hehehhe. but I was just wondering if the chowhounds out there with their creativity and many ethnic backgrounds had other ideas of how to cook softshell crabs. I'm liking the idea of a grilled ssc; you may be able to get a crunchy tasty shell and still have the buttery sweet soft inside. Come on chowhounds give me some ideas and i'll give them a try this summer when the true chesapeake softshell crabs come into season.

              2. Have you ever tried Singapore Chili Crab? I had a couple boxes of frozen soft shelled crabs that I cooked using this method...They turned out great...I even did one batch without frying first, just made them in the same way as you would the hard shelled...Turned out pretty well, but the ones that were floured and deep fried first were much better....

                here's the recipe I used:


                2 Replies
                1. re: soypower

                  No, I've never had Singapore Chili Crab! OMG, the recipe you linked sounds delicious. Now, the version on the web site fries the soft shell crab with a flour coating, so yah, it's a variation on frying, then saucing the crabs. yum.

                  Okay, I must say I much prefer my softshell crabs live, they're less wet then the frozen ones and the texture of the meat of the live crabs are much better. I'm wondering if a honey/chili sauce glaze over a charcoal fire would make a crunchy shell and a sweet inside. hmmm...

                  1. re: PakaloloDreams

                    I wish I could get them fresh, but budget and I think locale dictate that I purchase frozen...:o) I like your idea of grilling them with the glaze...I may just have to try it!

                2. America's Test Kitchen attempted to come up with a no-fry version of chicken parmesan that you might want to borrow from. Here's what they have to say:

                  "We found that if we first toasted the bread crumbs with a little oil before coating the chicken, it would give them flavor and color—enough so we could then bake the breaded cutlets on a rack in a 475-degree oven."

                  If I remember correctly, they did flour the cutlets and dip them into egg before applying the breadcrumbs.

                  1. OH - I should also mention that they used PANKO breadcrumbs. These are the Japanese style breadcrumbs that are larger and produce a crunchier texture than reg'lar breadcrumbs.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: sondrac

                      Now that was the second thought about crispy but still soft softshell crabs, to do a oven-baked version like some people try to do fried chicken in the oven. And oh yeah, I always have panko on hand for various fried or baked dishes. neat idea!

                      1. re: sondrac

                        One more thing: during baking they put the cutlets onto a rack placed in a pan. This elevated the cutlets for even browning on both sides.

                      2. They are so delicious and hard to come by fresh in these parts, that we usually lightly saute in butter with toasted almonds and a squirt of lemon.

                        If I had enough to play around with, I might try a simple, light broth with a bit of ginger or something else to bring out the natural sweetness. Light grilling might work. I do think it a challenge to maintain a crispy, not tough, shell with moist meat.

                        I am envious of your inquiry! If anyone could recommend a current source for reliable frozen or fresh soft shells, mail-order or Boston area, I would be very appreciative. I would love to experiment too!

                        1. I love them pan fried, but *without* any breading. Just some butter in a pan with maybe a bit of garlic, and then spritz with lemon when they're done. Perfect.

                          1. Our favorite way to have soft shell crabs is grilled in our grill basket. A little Italian dressing brushed on is good. You can saute but IMO grilled is best. One of our favorite restaurants (Middendorf's) makes a great broiled soft shell crab. I believe all they coat it in is butter and cayenne.

                            9 Replies
                            1. re: mrsfury

                              whoa! tell us how the outside turns out! Is it crispy and crunchy and the inside still soft and sweet and creamy? Broiled in an oven seems like the shell would be maybe still soft?

                              1. re: PakaloloDreams

                                It's not crunchy or chewy. Ya know how the inside of a deep fried one is, where the shell parts are? It's like that. I can't really explain. It's edible but not crunchy. Yes the shell stays soft. You really should try it. Google broiled or grilled soft shell crab. There are a bunch of recipes.

                                1. re: mrsfury

                                  This whole discussion made me so crazy for ssCs that I ran out this morning and bought some for dinner --they're in season and stocked at Captain Marden's in Wellesley, MA. They're about tarantula sized and that's just how I like them. Can't wait for dinner!

                                  1. re: SSqwerty

                                    Thanks for the heads-up!

                                    I called my local fishmonger, and sadly they don't have soft shelled crabs yet. I did mention that Captain Marden had them, just to give a bit of a nudge.

                                    To stay on topic, how did you prepare them and how were they?

                                  2. re: mrsfury

                                    Everyone's got my head spinning. I'm def going to grill some soon and try different glazes and sauces and marinades, but since they're so expensive, one of each Ha!

                                    1. re: PakaloloDreams

                                      I sincerely hope my suggestions live up to your expectations. Don't forget to dig out the dead men and cut off the eyes. We never fry them - too messy. I'll leave that to the restaurants when I have my fried soft shell poboy. Let me know how y'all like them.

                                      1. re: mrsfury

                                        I know they need to be prepped, but could you expand on the "dig out the dead men and cut off the eyes" advice? I'm always looking for ways to maximize flavor from some of my favorite seasonal critters.

                                        Thanks in advance!

                                        1. re: chowfamily

                                          You lift up the shell and scrape out the stuff that is not meat or fat. I believe it is the gills. I cut off their little faces with a pair of kitchen scissors. I hate that part. :)

                              2. I have tried it stir fried with Szechun garlic sauce in a Chinese restaurant once.

                                Another one that I had in Japan was a wafu (Japanese-style) pasta - softshell crab on pasta with spicy tomato sauce. The crab wasn't fried, but cut into pieces and sauteed with the tomato sauce (with some shrimps and such)