Spring time is great for cooking lighter versions of traditional winter recipes and for sautéing ramps. But perhaps my favorite part about spring cooking is the availability of soft shell crabs. These crabs are available starting this month through summer and remind us that some shellfish are still seasonal even in this era of globalization and commodity fishing.
A “soft shell crab” is just a culinary word for an American blue crab that has recently molted — very recently, in fact, as the shell remains soft for only hours, not days, after the crab has molted. It’s amazing the industry is able to catch so many with this tight of a window.
Soft shell crabs are now widely available at fish stores and at some supermarkets (I got these at a Citarella). Make sure you get them cleaned when you buy them — unless you don’t plan on cooking within the next day or so, as the crabs lose a lot a day after they’ve been cleaned.
Most often soft shell crabs are ruined by overly battered and fried preparations. A light batter can be good, but my preference is to grill them with just some olive oil, lemon zest, garlic, parsley, and a few spices. The crabs’ new shells provide a natural crunch and do not need batter. While I have yet to see grilled soft shell crabs without batter at a restaurant, as the home cook you can do whatever you want. Try this.
Grilled Soft Shell Crabs
- 4 soft shell crabs cleaned
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 medium garlic cloves peeled and diced
- Zest from about 1/4 of a lemon
- Juice from 1/2 of a lemon
- Pinch of Herbes de Provence or your favorite herb mix optional
- Salt and pepper
- Fresh chopped parsley for garnish
Rinse and pat dry cleaned crabs and place them in a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients except lemon juice and mix well, making sure the crabs are well-coated. Reserve some parsley for garnish.
Meanwhile heat a grill, grill pan, or broiler with the rack fairly close to the flame (4-6 inches is good). When the grill or broiler is fairly hot add the crabs and cook 3-4 minutes per side, turning once and basting with the oil mixture that was left in the bowl.
Remove to a serving dish and top with more parsley and the lemon juice.