Soft shell crabs are one of my favorite foods to eat ever, hands down, of all time. The texture of them is so unique as you bite down, shell and all: crispy on the outside, bursting with rich flavor and moist meat on the inside. My birthday falls right in the middle of soft shell crab season in New York, and I like to treat myself to a soft shell crab dinner on that day.
“What is this bizarre species of crab that has an edible shell?” you may be asking. Soft shell crabs are actually regular crabs that are in the middle of molting, exchanging one shell for another. After the crabs outgrow their old shells, they shed them, and when they have absorbed enough calcium to generate a new shell, they will. In the meantime, these crabs are soft and vulnerable. This is when we eat them! Evil, right? But oh, so delicious.
Soft shell crabs are a seasonal delicacy, since they molt in order to allow for growth during the summer. In New York it starts around early May, and sometimes lasts through August. Soft shell crabs can be pricey, but you’ll see their price fluctuate with their availability. Expect to pay anywhere from $4 to $8 per crab, unless you’d like to go to Chinatown and buy them by the dozen for $2 each. However, soft shell crabs are best when eaten exceptionally fresh.
On that note, let’s talk freshness. Definitely cook your soft shell crabs the day you buy them, they do not keep well. When you buy your soft shell crabs, look for crabs that are still alive at the fishmonger. If you can stomach it, take them home (alive) and keep them (alive) until you are ready to cook them. If you don’t want to kill the crabs yourself–a process that involves, well… cutting off their faces–ask your fishmonger to do this for you.
I don’t do much to my soft shell crabs, as I think their flavor is exceptional on its own. This recipe is quick and only involves two ingredients: the crabs and some oil. These are great served alongside a nice spring vegetable, over wilted greens, or with a salad. Two soft shell crabs is a meal for me, though when I finish them, I sometimes wish I had a third 😉
- Soft shell crabs (2 per person)
- olive oil
- Heat a pan on medium heat. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. While the oil heats up, blot your soft shell crabs with a paper towel to soak up excess water. Sear the soft shell crabs for about three minutes on each side, until golden brown. Serve immediately.
- The crabs will splatter as they pan-fry, beware!