Rite of spring: Soft-shell crab season returns

Published 11:12 pm Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Editor’s note: Soft-shell crabs are back in the Outer Banks for their short and delicious springtime appearance. Seafood markets and restaurants are serving them up now, for as long as they last.

By Sea Grant North Carolina

What could be tastier than a hard blue crab with its hidden bits and chunks of sweet, white meat? For many people, the ultimate delicacy is a soft crab that can be eaten almost whole – claws, flipper and a new shell included.

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Soft-shell crabs are blue crabs that have shed their hard outer shells as they grow. They are not a separate species as some think.

Soft crabs come live and fresh-frozen. If you purchase them live, often the dealer will clean them for you. Or you can quickly and easily dress them yourself. But handle them carefully to preserve large pieces of meat.

Graded by size, soft-shell crabs range from mediums, 3 ½ to 4 inches wide, to primes, more than 5 ½ inches. Markets price them by size.

Natives of New Orleans often claim that they prepare the best soft crabs because they are not afraid to fry them. Many cooks feel that deep frying brings out the best flavor. When cooked this way, they traditionally come with tartar sauce.

In coastal North Carolina, most people pan-fry them. The ultimate Down East sandwich consists of a fried soft crab served with mayonnaise on a soft white bun.

No matter where you live, you can cook and enjoy soft crabs in a variety of ways. They taste absolutely delicious sautéed, baked, broiled and grilled. For additional flavors, serve them stuffed or with sauces.

Our soft-crab recipes are simple and easy to prepare. Cooking times are for average-size crabs. Adjust time for smaller or larger crabs.

The soft-shell crab is low in calories, fat and cholesterol.

Grilled Soft-Shell Crabs

12 soft-shell crabs

½ cup vegetable oil

½ cup chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

3 tablespoon soy sauce

¼ teaspoon Tabasco sauce

In small bowl, combine oil, parsley, lemon juice, nutmeg, soy sauce and Tabasco. Brush both sides of crabs with sauce. Place upside down on grill about 4 inches over moderately hot coals. Cook until lightly browned, about 5 to 6 minutes. Turn and repeat on other side. Serves 6.

Baked Soft Shell Crabs

Cooking times are for average-size crabs. Adjust time for smaller or larger crabs.

12 soft-shell crabs

2 eggs, beaten

1/4 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon paprika

3/4 cup flour

3/4 cup dry bread crumbs

4 tablespoons margarine or butter

Combine eggs, milk, salt, pepper and paprika in shallow dish. Combine flour and crumbs in another shallow dish. Dip crabs in egg mixture, then in flour mixture. Place in lightly greased baking pan. Dot with margarine. Bake at 400 F until crabs are browned and tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Serves 6.

Sauteed Soft Shell Crabs with Lime Mayonnaise

8 soft-shell crabs

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup flour

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon paprika

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

4 tablespoons canola oil

4 tablespoons margarine or butter

Prepare Lime Mayonnaise and set aside.

In large bowl, combine flour, salt, pepper and paprika. Lightly dredge crabs in mixture and gently shake off excess.

Heat oil in large skillet to 375 F. Add margarine and melt. Add lime juice and mix. Place crabs in skillet, topside down. Cook until reddish-brown on one side, about 5 minutes. Turn crabs and cook until done, about 5 more minutes. Drain on paper towels. Serve with Lime Mayonnaise.

Lime Mayonnaise:

1 cup mayonnaise

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon lime zest

In small bowl, combine mayonnaise, lime juice, cayenne, salt and lime zest. Set aside for flavors to blend. Serve with cooked crabs.


From: Mariner’s Menu: 30 Years of Fresh Seafood Ideas