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May 4, 2012 06:36 AM

Soft Shell Crabs

Ahh, the season is again upon us - having begun early in many places due to the warm winter. Such a glorious little treat. Ripe with attached memories for me, which makes them even more enjoyable.

Crabs were always part of summer's bounty. Having grown up in the 70s on one of NJ's thin barrier islands, crabs represented long days with doting grandparents. We'd sit plucking them from the Bay 'til there were more than the four of us could possibly eat. Such an easy thing to do, pulling up a hard shell blue claw and scooping it with the net - such fantastic fun for a little boy.

Then, on those certain occasions, often around the time of the full moon, you'd see one sort of floating, gently swimming by. As fast as the net could get near the water, you'd swoop. Sometimes, you were rewarded with a freshly molted crab, a soft shell. To the mind of a seven year old kid, it was an almost unthinkable treat, considering the bucket of it's brethren that Grandma would later steam, you could just bite right into this fella.

Now, the gentle, old lady had one basic way for frying up her crabs, quite similar to what she did with the fluke we'd catch on other days. The cleaned crab went into flour, an egg dredge, then seasoned breadcrumbs. They were pan fried in mostly Crisco oil with a decent amount of butter. Occasionally, the crabs were on a plate for a dinner, but usually they were the stuff of lunchtime sandwiches. They would rest on toasted, country white bread, above a smear of tartar and a leaf or two of lettuce. The top got a slice of a tomato from her garden after a squeeze of lemon. Glorious, indeed.

Today, my technique involves less coating. Typically, I just dredge the crab in seasoned flour and pan fry quickly in peanut oil. Simple art. A sandwich is more likely to involve fancier bread, but I've still got a soft spot for the fresh tomato and tartar.

So, I can't help but ask, how do you soft shell? Any other lovers?

Edit: Just noticed Bitman's got a nod to them today: I'll agree, grilling can be a good change of pace.

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  1. I love them except for the inside stuff that is a little too strong for me. Any suggestions on cleaning that out?

    1 Reply
    1. I love them simply grilled or in a chinese ginger sauce.

      1. You have accomplished what I thought was impossible; make me homesick for NJ.
        I need to make a trip down from ME this summer, just for a soft shell crab sandwich on corn rye.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Passadumkeg

          Funny, Pass, those were my South River kin - summers in Barnegat Light. I recall my Grandmother making the sandwiches a couple times on toasted babka if the old man had brought some down from "up north." Unconventional, sure, but actually quite good - may have to revisit that myself some time.

          1. re: MGZ

            Spent summers in Ship Bottom, then Seaside Hights. I used to since elementary school in the South Rive and Raritan Bay near the S Amboy power plant. I could walk to 3 Polish bars and get soft shell sandwiches on Sitz's rye.

        2. Love soft shells. A trick from David Rosengarten. When pan frying, line something heavy with foil (I use a cast iron pan) and put it on top of the crabs. The weight forces out a lot of water.

          1. I do enjoy Pan Fried/Deep Fried Soft Shell Crabs.....either alone or on a sandwich with Aioli or Remoulade....but my favorite way to have them is pan sauteed.....first dipped in flour and egg....then dressed in a Francese/Francais or other lemon and butter sauce enhanced with herbs and Concasse Tomatoes ...served with a starch of choice and vegetables on the side.

            Chinese Salt & Pepper is also pretty good too.