In the late Spring and early Summer many delicacies show up in local fish markets. Soft shell crabs are one of my favorites. I love the fact that you can eat (almost) the entire thing, they get really crispy, and theres no picking for 1/2 and hour to get one bite. Handling them is also easy because they can’t pinch you! And if you’ve ever had your finger crushed in a crab or lobsters claw, it hurts like a bitch and they don’t let go.
My mother turned me onto these critters when I was a kid and I’ve been hooked ever since. The most difficult thing is finding them alive, healthy and at a reasonable price. Most fish mongers sell them from $3.50-$5 each. Kind of steep when you need at least 6-8 for a family meal.
Luckily, I was in Chinatown recently and found some for $11 a dozen or $1 each. They were slightly smaller but alive and kicking like little mean monsters. Man, these crabs were angry. In my book, as far as crustaceons like crabs and lobsters go, the angrier the better. It’s the best sign of freshness. Now, since I’m not squeamish about killing live ingredients, I bought them straight out of the box, alive and kicking. But if you’re not into being the executioner, have them kill and clean them for you.
Cleaning a soft shell crab takes just two steps. Using a sharp kitchen scissors, cut from just outside one eye to the other, straight across their “face.” I know it sounds gruesome, but this will quickly kill them, humanely, and remove hard parts such as their eyes and teeth. Then, if they are a female, they will have a little flap near their tush. Cut that off because is can be hard too. Then wash them well under cold water and pat dry with paper towels best you can. Since we’re frying these, water is our enemy.
This recipe is for shallow frying six soft shell crabs.
The Cajun Dredge
I love the texture of semolina and corn meal. It always gives a nice crunch, even if your oil temp is a bit off. You can use all white flour instead but it can get soggy.
1 cup semolina flour
1 cup cornmeal
2 tbsp Old Bay Seasoning
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp grandulated garlic powder
2 tsp celery seed
1 tsp. chili powder or cayenne (optional)
Combine all dry ingredients in a shallow bowl and mix well with a whisk.
Crack 3 eggs into another bowl and scramble with a fork.
Using a medium cast iron pan, fill to 1/2 to 3/4 inch of canola oil and set flame on medium. If you have an oil or candy thermometer, your target is 350 degrees. The oil should never be smoking. If it is, you’re up too high.
A crucial piece of hardware here is a fry splash screen. It’s basically just a circular piece of mesh with a handle that should be bigger than your pan.
Sometimes, just a little moisture in hot oil can cause a big pop and if you’ve ever been burned by hot oil, it’s a bad 3rd degree burn. So get one and use it. They’re available everywhere and cheap.
Pat cleaned crabs dry with a paper towel again to absorb any extra water and dredge each in egg and then in seasoned flour. Shake off excess. Prep all six crabs on a clean and dry plate.
When oil is up to temp, drop a pinch of flour in to test, it should sizzle immediately.
Then carefully, with long tongs in one hand and a splash screen in the other, one at a time, put three crabs in the hot oil, belly side down. Cover with splash screen. Cook for 3 minutes a side. A minute longer per side if they are large crabs. Remove to a wire rack with paper towel underneath to cool.
Yum! Crunchy, crabby goodness! Each little leg is like a crabby French fry as I pull them off one by one.
Serve with remoulade, tartar sauce or just a squeeze of lemon. These babies miraculously hold their crunch even after a night in the fridge and a quick warmup in the nuker. Enjoy!