Food and Wine: Soft Shell Crabs
Author: Clayton Rollinson
Last month we romanticized about spring. Now spring is really here, and let’s get down to the nitty and the gritty of it. SOFT SHELL CRABS ARE HERE!
If you don’t eat these things, you probably cheered for Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. Today, I will explain how soft shell crabs happen and how to cook them at home without a deep fat fryer.
Blue crabs are arthropods, so they have to “molt” their shell to grow. Once the water warms, their bodies start a unique process to shed their hard shell. Five to 10 days before the crabs are ready to molt, a thin white line begins to glow on the final two joints of their swimming fins. These crabs are known as peeler crabs. Peeler crabs are caught by fisherman in the wild. They are then sold to fisheries or seafood mongers to monitor the last few important steps.
The crabs are kept in shallow holding pens and monitored constantly. The crabs begin to go through another visual change as that white line formed on the back fin now becomes red, and white, wrinkly lines form on the claws. At this point, the crab is ready to back out of the shell. The back of the shell then begins to split, and the gel coating begins to separate the crab and the old shell. The crab begins to back out of its shell, which only takes a few hours. Once out of their shells, the crabs are completely defenseless; they then hide in mud along river bottoms and are impossible to catch. The process of the shell hardening begins immediately. It takes only a few hours before they become “leathery” and only a day or two for the shell to become hard. They grow from 20-30 percent in size after they back out of their shell. You can see the whole process on the back dock at Hudson’s.
Now the fun part. Let’s eat. But first you have to clean the crabs. All you will need is a pair of kitchen shears. The first step is to remove the abdomen under the crab. Second step is to lift up what should be the shell on top of the crab, exposing the lungs. You will want to cut those out as well. The third step is to snip off the face. At this point, the crab is cleaned and ready to eat. If you have not done this before, simply watch a video on YouTube.
Most of the time you see soft shell crabs fried in one manner or another. At home, it can be messy or dangerous if you are unsure of yourself. At Lucky Rooster, we serve them off the Plancha, simply seasoned with salt and pepper, with no breading. At home, grilling them is an excellent alternative to frying. It’s a healthier alternative, and you won’t splatter grease everywhere.
Serve the soft shell crabs over chilled grilled spring vegetables that can be cooked earlier in the day, allowing you to spend time with your guests. Some things are worth the wait, and soft shell crabs are definitely one of them.
Beet Salad With Sauteed Soft Shell Crab
Special thanks to Hudson’s On The Docks for their delicious Beet salad and Soft Shell Crab Recipe.
SOFT SHELL PREPARATION:
Remove belly plate, lungs and eyes. Dip in egg wash* mixture. Cover the crab thoroughly without pushing out the juices. Pan sauté until golden brown. Be careful not to cook too long as soft shells have a tendency to pop if overcooked.
Egg Wash Whisk together: 6 whole eggs, 4 egg yolks and 6 tablespoons buttermilk
BEET SALAD INGREDIENTS:
6 beets (3 red, 3 gold)
2 c. loosely packed arugula
1 c. loosely packed mixed greens
1/4 c. goat cheese
Black pepper & kosher salt to taste
Your favorite balsamic dressing
2 tablespoons EVOO
Preheat oven to 350. Rub beets with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and roast for 2 hours or until soft. Place beets in a paper grocery bag and close top so it is air tight. Peel beets and discard skin. Cut into desired size cubes. Season with salt to taste. Arrange arugula and mixed greens on a plate, top with beets, goat cheese and soft shell crab.
Goose Melon Mojito:
• 1.5oz Grey Goose Le Melon
• .5oz Of Triple Sec
• Muddled Fresh Mint and Fresh Limes
• Soda Water and a Splash of Sprite
Special thanks to Adam and Kelly Nemetz (from Electric Piano in Park Plaza) for their refresshing Heritage cocktail. Make the EP Lounge a post-Heritage destination.