What To Eat Now : Soft Shell Crab

Living near the water in Sweden I grew up eating tons of seafood, especially crabs. We would prepare those hard bodies in any way imaginable - steamed, sauteed, boiled or in stock - but it wasn't until I came to New York that I tried soft shell crab for the first time. I was in Chinatown and got a taste of Singaporean crab - that mix of salty sauce and briny meat was it for me! It freaked me out at first that you could eat the whole thing.

Many years and many soft shell crabs later, it's still one of my favorite warm weather foods to eat. Some may be intimated by the thought of trying to prepare soft shell crabs at home, but it's really quite easy once you clean the gills and lungs.

Soft shell crabs have a mild, tangy flavor but are tender and delicate in structure. They are basically blue crabs that crawl out of hibernation to shed their hard shells and grow new ones - hence, why you are able to eat the soft shell crab in its entirety. The process for soft shell crabs is a tedious one because it takes several days to lose that hard shell. However, once the outer layer is removed, they are only soft for about 2-3 hours before their shell starts to get hard again which means a smaller window and time frame for eating the succulent, tender crabmeat.

Because the crabs need direct heat to become crispy, preparing soft shell crabs is much different than any other types of seafood. Soft shell crabs should not be boiled or steamed but rather pan-fried, sauteed, broiled or grilled. From there, you can head in a bunch of different directions - salads, pastas, sandwiches, even sushi!

The most traditional way of having soft shell crab is in a simple sandwich with tomatoes and perhaps a touch of remoulade sauce. Because the flavor of the crabs are so delicate, you don't want to serve them with overpowering ingredients. However, if you're looking for something different, why not try serving your crab lightly coated in flour, tossed with garlic, butter and fresh herbs? Toss in some paprika and cayenne pepper for a spicy kick. For an Asian twist, go for tempura-battered crab bites with a soy-ginger sauce. The mouth-watering bite-size crab will be succulent and the sauce will add the perfect tang to the meat.  You can also prepare the crab with a delicate homemade pasta noodle, served in a light sauce of olive oil, red pepper flakes and pasta water.

Whatever route you take, just be sure you're getting the freshest soft shell crab possible. Avoid those wrapped in cellophane and use your sharp sense of smell to weed out the good crab versus the not-so-good. Fresh blue crab should have a scent like the sea - astringent and misty yet clean and light. And if you're ever down in Chinatown, go for the Singaporean flavored crab - maybe I'll see you there!

Photo: Diva Eva 

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