Ramps. Heirloom tomatoes. Soft-shell crabs. Some delicacies have extremely short seasons. Soft-shell crabs can look a little intimidating...especially with their little spider-like legs intact. But they’re actually pretty easy to make at home. Here’s everything you need to know about the fleeting summer specialty.
What exactly are soft-shell crabs? They’re typically blue crabs that have gotten too big for the shells and recently shed them. Shortly (like, within three hours), they’ll begin making new, bigger ones, which is why the window to eat them is so short.
And when is soft-shell crab season? It usually starts in May and lasts through September.
How do I buy them? While you probably aren’t going to find soft shells at the supermarket, head to a specialty seafood store and you’ll spot them. Steer clear of crabs wrapped in cellophane, which typically indicates they were previously frozen. We suggest asking your fishmonger to clean them for you; a few quick expert snips will save you lots of time at home. And if you’re ordering out? Make sure you buy them in-season. A special probably indicates the chef just got some in (and is, naturally, excited). Oh, and when you get them home, resist the temptation to store them in the fridge for more than a few hours. Every minute the crabs sit in cold temperatures, they get tougher.
How much will they set me back? Typically, they cost $48 to $75 a dozen depending on size (and one crab feeds one person).
And how do I cook them? Because you eat the entire crab—soft shell and all—people typically fry them so the skin turns into a delicately crispy, bubbly layer. Although you could break out the deep fryer, we prefer to pan-fry ours. Coat the crabs in flour and seasonings, add to a canola oil-brushed skillet over medium-high heat and cook for about three minutes a side until browned and crispy. A good recipe to start? Andrew Zimmern’s Pan-Crisped Soft Shell Crabs with Lemon & Herbs or Crispy Soft Shell Crab Sandwiches from Vodka & Biscuits. Once you master how to pan-fry them (so easy), you can play around with the seasonings and get creative with presentation. Soft-shell crab tempura sushi rolls? Soft-shell crab BLTs? Soft-shell crab-topped Bloody Marys? Bring it on.
And wait, how do I eat them? You eat the entire crab: shell, legs and all. Typically you use a fork and knife, unless it’s served to you in a sandwich or something…in which case you just grab it and dive in.