What’s in Season? Soft Shell Crab

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Often we think about vegetables and fruits as having unique seasons, but meat and seafood are just as influenced by the change in weather. A great example is the Soft-shell crab. From Mid-April to early June this late spring and early summer treat inspires complete devotion, in part because the season is so short.

Soft-shells are actually just blue crabs that have shed their shells in a warm-weather growth spurt. If they stay in the water, they grow new, larger shells, but if harvested, that process comes to a halt and the crabs stay soft (and almost completely edible).

When buying soft-shell crabs, live ones are the best but they’re not always easy to find. To select the tastiest, use your nose. When fresh, they smell clean and astringent, like sea mist.

If you haven’t tried or even heard of soft shell crabs, here is your opportunity. You’ve never had anything that tastes as perfectly fresh as these, with just the right amount of ocean saltiness.

Give these recipes a try.

Fried Soft Shell Crab Sandwich



  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning


  • 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
  • 2 cups thinly sliced cabbage
  • 1 Jalapeno pepper, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

Crab and Sandwich

  • Vegetable oil (for frying; about 2 cups)
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning, divided
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 2 large eggs, beaten to blend
  • 1¼ cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 4 soft-shell crabs, cleaned
  • 4 soft buns, warmed


  1. Sauce: Whisk mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, whole grain mustard, and Old Bay seasoning in small bowl. Sauce can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill.
  2. Slaw: Whisk vinegar and mustard in medium bowl. Add cabbage and pepper and toss to combine; season with salt and pepper.
  3. Crab and Sandwich: Pour oil into a large skillet, preferably cast iron, to a depth of ½-inch and heat over medium-high heat until oil bubbles immediately when a pinch of flour is added.
  4. Meanwhile, whisk flour, cayenne, and 1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning in a shallow bowl; season with salt and pepper. Place eggs into another shallow bowl. Whisk panko and remaining 1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning in a third shallow bowl; season with salt and pepper.
  5. Dredge crabs in flour mixture, shaking off excess, then dip in egg, letting excess drip back into bowl. Coat in panko mixture.
  6. Working in 2 batches, place crabs, shell side down, in skillet and cook until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Season with salt.
  7. Build sandwiches with buns, sauce, crabs, and slaw.

Soft Shell Crabs on the Grill


  • 6 soft shell crabs
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Rinse crabs under cold running water; brush them with a small brush if necessary to remove any dirt from their shells. Twist off and discard apron. Fold back the pointed sides of the top shell to expose gills; remove gills on both sides. Using kitchen scissors, cut across the front of the crab about ¼-inch behind the eyes and mouth; squeeze out the small sac located directly behind the mouth. (Cleaning soft shell crabs is not for the faint of heart…you can generally have this done at your seafood market).
  2. Preheat a grill with the lid down or a grill pan over medium-high heat.
  3. Brush crabs with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place crabs on grill and cover. Cook, turning crabs every couple minutes and basting them with remaining olive oil, until they turn orange and are cooked through, 7 to 9 minutes. Remove from grill and serve immediately.

Soft Shell Crab Pasta


  • ¼ cup Olive Oil, then more for drizzling
  • 4-6 Cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon Red Chili Flakes
  • 3 large or 4 small, cleaned Soft-Shell Crabs
  • 1 pound Whole Wheat Spaghetti pasta
  • ¾ bunch of Parsley, chopped
  • Salt and Pepper


  1. In a deep pan over low heat, add oil, garlic and chili flakes. After about 5 minutes when garlic is soft, raise the heat to medium-low. Add the crabs to pan then cover.
  2. Cook pasta in the meantime.
  3. After about 15 minutes, crabs will turn red and become firm while letting out their liquid. Lift out crabs with tongs and cut in pieces with scissors into the pot. Mix and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. When pasta is firm, short of al dente, drain and add to pan. Over medium heat, toss pasta, chopped parsley and crab sauce together. Add to serving bowls and top with more parsley and drizzle of olive oil.

Serves 4.

Soft Shelled Crab with Pastured Butter, Lemon and Capers


  • Two fresh soft shelled crabs, cleaned and rinsed
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • 2 ounces pastured butter (if you cannot find pastured butter, use real butter)
  • Juice of half of a lemon, about 1½ tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons dry vermouth (you may substitute a Riesling wine, or chicken stock)
  • Sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained


  1. Clean the soft-shelled crabs, toss in cornstarch. In a ten-inch skill melt the butter at a medium low heat. When butter is melted add the soft-shelled crabs face up, and sauté for about 4 minutes.
  2. Turn, and sauté for another 3 minutes, or until it is done.
  3. Salt the crabs with salt immediately after you have taken them out of the pan. Set aside the cooked crabs in a warm place.
  4. Add the juice, dry vermouth, lemon and capers to the skillet and bring to a boil, cook until the sauce is fully incorporated. Pour over crabs.

Crispy Salt and Pepper Soft Shell Crab

(Recipe from Goldilocks Finds Manhattan)


  • 3-4 soft shell crabs, very fresh (best live) and cleaned
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ¼ cup seltzer water plus 2 tablespoons or until it is smooth.
  • 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, crushed (may use Lemon Pepper, but it is said that there is no good substitute)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 garlic cloves sliced,
  • 1 jalapeno)
  • Canola oil to fry


  1. Heat oil, depending on what you are using to for frying the amounts will vary.
  2. Mix the flour and starch together. Add pepper and salt and then add the seltzer.
  3. Dip the craps into the hot oil and fry until crispy. You will want to do batches. Do not crowd them. Remove and drain on paper towels. Briefly fry garlic and chilies.