Hurray! It’s soft-shelled crab time! They are back in season. Soft-shells are only around for a couple of weeks, so get some and enjoy them now. Keep it simple, with a light breading and a nice big drizzle of great Meyer Lemon-Brown Butter Sauce….mmmmmmmm…life is great! Exoskeletons shed once a year (in order to grown) and as you know, crabs are exo’s. These are, by the way, blue crabs. So, after their shells have been discarded, there’s a window of only a few hours to harvest them, before their new shell begins to harden. Those few hours are heaven for those of us who love soft-shells.
To clean or not to clean, that is the question. You can eat soft-shelled crabs as they come out of the sea, but most of of the time people prefer to clean them. If you’re fine eating them as is, then save yourself time and don’t bother. For those of you with strong sensibilities, just skip right to the recipe! For other, this is how you do it:
First—Using a sharp kitchen shears, cut across the “face” just behind the eyes. Second—You’re going to make cut a “V” to remove the beak. First one one side, then cut the other—the beak is really a piece of cartilage; just snip the V-shaped piece from the body. Next—lift the “wings” on the sides. See those spongy finger-like things there. Those are the gills. Slide one side of the scissors blade behind them and snip them off close the the body. Repeat on the other side. Finally—Turn the lovely creature over. See the tail? That’s the flap at the back. Lift it up and now for the final snip, cut it off right where it meets the body. Done! Repeat until you’ve cleaned all of the crabs. Now that really wasn’t that difficult, was it? Dump all the dredging ingredients into a plastic bag; mix them up and set aside. The amount given will do more than 2 crabs. Just toss the bag in the freezer and use the dredge for any fish or chicken. Julienne the lemon peel very, very finely. Drop it into a bowl with the juice and the white wine and just set it aside. Dip the crabs into the milk. You can leave them soak for a few minutes if you wish. Then drop them into the bag, close the bag and toss the crab. You’ll notice that I mention “gently” with some frequency. You don’t want legs falling off. It’s never good to lose a leg! You’ll find the coating sticks better when the coated crabs rest for a few minutes. If you feel the coating is too thin, then recoat them before you fry them. You want just the bare minimum of breading. Heat the oil/butter combination in your skillet…Hey, this is a skillet dinner, isn’t it? When the butter is just starting to brown a bit, lower the heat to medium and gently place the girls in the butter. (I got tired of calling them crabs, sorry.) After about two minutes turn them. They should be golden brown. Look at them…just inhale that aroma. Remove them, plop them on a slice of toast and set aside. You’ll turn up the heat now, pour in the lemon peel/wine mixture and boil it up until it thickens. Nap the crabs with some of the browned butter and enjoy!
Soft-Shelled Crabs with Meyer Lemon-Brown Butter Sauce
- 2 soft-shelled crabs, cleaned
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 1 teaspoon Meyer lemon juice (or regular lemon juice)
- 2 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil
- 3-4 tablespoon butter
- Zest of 1/2 of a Meyer lemon, cut into extremely fine julienne
- 2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons dry white wine
- 1 teaspoon rinsed and drained caper, finely chopped if large (optional)
- Flour Dredge:
- 2/3 cup rice flour
- 1/2 cup extra fine cornmeal (I use Goya®)
- 3 tablespoons fine cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon smoked sweet or hot paprika
- 1 teaspoon toasted, ground Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground celery seeds or celery salt
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Slice(s) of good toast for serving
Combine all the ingredients in a gallon-sized sealable food storage bag. Shake until well combined; set aside.
Pour some of the milk into a flat saucer; you’ll want it about 1/4-inch deep. Add the lemon juice; whisk together with a fork. Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes, then whisk again; it may look curdled (that’s okay). Dip the crab in the milk, pressing down gently; turn and repeat. Make certain the milk gets into all the little nooks and crannies of the crab. Pick up the crab by one leg; very gently shake the milk off of the crab. Drop the crab into the dredging mixture. Gently shake the bag to completely coat the crab. You may need to “help” it out a bit, by spooning some of the dredge mixture into the nook and crannies. Shake off the excess dredge; place on a plate and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. Redredge and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes. Repeat the dredging process with each additional crab.
When you’re ready to fry them, Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil, then the butter. Lower the heat to medium and do not let the butter burn. Immediately place the crabs into the skillet. Do not crowd them. It’s better to use two skillets if you’re doing more than 2 or 3 crabs. Fry them for about 2 minutes per side, or until they are crisp and browned. Immediately remove the crabs from the pan to a serving dish. Raise the heat; add the lemon juice, zest and white wine. Boil until the mixture is slightly reduced and begins to thicken a bit; remove from the heat and stir in the capers. Place the crab(s) on top of a slice of toast and nap with some of the lemon-butter sauce. Serve immediately.
NOTE: Instead of using milk with lemon juice you can use buttermilk. I usually thin buttermilk with just a bit of milk or the dredge tends to glop onto the crab.
Soft-Shelled Crabs with Meyer Lemon-Brown Butter Sauce Recipe©Marcia Lahens 2016. All rights reserved.
Dive right into these babies. It’s important to have everything else prepared, so you can eat the shell-less blue babies the minute they hit your plate. You want to experience their crispness. Some people deep-fry soft shells, but I think that it takes away their delicate flavor and makes them way too rich. These are rich. Make no mistake about that, but they are truly a seasonal delight to look forward to each spring.
I love them served on top of a piece of toasted bread. The bread soaks up all that lovely lemony, brown butter. You can feel your arteries clog and you won’t care. It’s an indulgence. Enjoy it. It only comes once a year and for such a short time. Another option is to pop one onto a soft potato roll, smeared with some lemony mayo, a couple of slices of tomatoes and dig in. That is one perfectly lovely sandwich. I always served soft-shelled crabs with some sort of slaw. This time I’m serving them with Sichuan Cucumber Salad. Ah, yes…life is indeed great!