If you live on the coast in the Carolinas, every spring you anticipate Soft shell Crabs. Living in Charleston, we are very close to the source. If you have a relationship with a fishmonger or a fisherman, then you may occasionally get them fresh and still live. You will want to prepare them as quickly as you can or, you need to clean and freeze them immediately.
If you are fortunate to get fresh, you likely will not be freezing any! To clean them, there is nothing difficult about the process. If you are squeamish, you should delegate the task to a person with capable hands, a pair of kitchen scissors or chef’s knife will be all that is required.
To clean, I start by cutting off the face from under the mouth. Then, remove the apron by peeling back and tearing off. Then, lift the right point up and remove the lungs, then repeat on the left side. Done. I like to give them a soak in buttermilk for 15-30 minutes while gathering the prep. Then, I dredge or pass through some seasoned cornmeal, shake off the excess and drop into hot oil of 350 degree F. Fry until golden brown. Using a spider or large slotted spoon, remove from oil and place on paper towels and sprinkle with coarse sea salt like Maldon from the UK.
You can use a counter top deep fryer, or you can shallow fry in a cast iron skillet or pot. I’ve done both with equal success. Shallow frying in a pan will require turning the crabs after a couple moments. Be aware! They like to pop and shoot oil in an act of revenge, it can hurt if it hits you in the face or neck.
Serve immediately with your favorite accompaniments, I love a zippy remoulade or tartare sauce, along with French fries, pickles or slaw with mine. You can certainly take them in other directions using Asian flavors and dipping sauces. The possibilities are pretty endless when it comes to these, just remember, simple is good! Let the crisp delicate texture and flavors shine through.
Below are some photos from a recent prep and cooking fried soft shell crabs with a cornmeal crust. Recipe follows.
Serves 2 or 3 persons
1). 3 Soft shell Crab, fresh and cleaned.
2). Fine or medium coarse yellow cornmeal.
3). 2 C buttermilk.
4). 1 T Garlic Powder, 2 t Coleman’s mustard, 2 t kosher salt, 2 t ground white pepper, 1 t cayenne, Optional: cumin, chili powder, or Paul Prudhome’s Cajun magic.
5). 1/2 gal grape seed oil.
6). Coarse sea salt like, Maldon from the UK.
1). Preheat grape seed oil to 350 degrees.
2). Combine spices with cornmeal and stir well.
3). Remove crabs one at a time and place into seasoned cornmeal and turn a couple of times to thoroughly coat each crab.
4). Lift each crab one at a time, slightly shake off excess, and gently place into hot oil. I go backside down first.
5). If you are shallow frying in a cast iron pan, you will need to carefully turn after 2 minutes or so and finishing cooking for another 2 minutes.
6). Using a spider or large slotted spoon, carefully remove one each crab and place onto plate or pan lined with a paper towel. While still hot, sprinkle each with coarse sea salt and serve immediately!