How to Buy, Clean, and Cook Soft Shell Crabs

Part 2: How to Prepare Soft Shell Crabs for Cooking & How to Eat Them

Fried soft shell crab
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NOTE: This is part two of a two-part series. See Part 1: What a Soft Shell Crab Is (and Isn't) & What to Look For

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How to Prepare Soft Shell Crabs for Cooking

If you buy frozen soft shell crabs, they are almost certainly 'dressed' (cleaned) and ready to cook. If they are fresh, however, you'll need to prep them first. It's a simple process that begins with snipping straight across the front part of the shell just behind the eyes.

This is most easily done with a pair of scissors and it dispatches the crab instantly.

Next, lift up each half of the top shell and remove the feathery gills, or 'lungs'. Then, flip the crab over and pull off the lower hinged plate (the part with the point) at the bottom of the shell. That's it -- you're done!

How to Eat Soft Shell Crabs

Soft shell crabs are eaten whole, 'shell' and all. The shell is quite pliable, and the meat inside is incredibly sweet, juicy, and bursting with pure crab flavor.

Simple methods of cooking are often best: broiling, grilling, and especially, frying. As a rule of thumb, soft shells should be broiled or fried for about 4 minutes per side, or 8 minutes total; about 5 minutes per side on the grill.

Lightly flouring the crabs and pan-frying them in butter mixed with a little oil is popular. A variation on this is to cook them in butter and olive oil, then deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, a teaspoon or two of tiny capers, and some chopped fresh parsley, plus salt and cracked pepper to taste -- an amazing and nearly instantaneous sauce.

Breaded and deep fried soft shell crabs are a real treat. The classic sandwich is made with lettuce and tomato on a lightly toasted roll, spread with mayonnaise or just a hint of tartar sauce -- nothing that might overwhelm the crab sweetness. Add a side of good cole slaw and you're set.

You can use a standard coating or breader, or you can mix up your own by using half flour and half cornmeal, seasoned with a little garlic powder, a generous amount of black pepper, and a pinch of cayenne.

You can even stuff them with a mushroom duxelle and bread them with Parmesan-laced crumbs if you want to be really fancy.

A word of caution: When deep frying soft shells, steam can build up in the claws and legs, causing them to burst (and possibly spatter hot oil.) Avoid this by pushing a pin through each claw and leg segment before frying, or by placing a second fry basket inside the first to keep the crabs fully submerged in the oil.

Below are some more helpful tips and recipes to get you started on enjoying delectable soft shell crabs.

See Part 1: What a Soft Shell Crab Is (and Isn't) & What to Look For