Growing up in Wisconsin, my mom would periodically bring home blue crabs from the Asian food mart in downtown Madison. The crabs would still be kicking around–nothing but fresh and the best for my mom–and I would gently prod them with a chopstick to see if any of them would make a grab for it. (While I often imagined one of them making a break for it and skittering along our linoleum floors on its way to freedom, this never happened. ) Her method of cooking was clean and steam. She’d remove their shells, scrap off the gills, and put them on plates in the wok, which served as a makeshift steamer, and not long after, we’d have sweet, fresh crab for a summertime feast.
Now that I live in Maryland, though, I’ve learned to eat crabs the Maryland way–which is, steamed whole and covered in a salty, spicy layer of Old Bay seasoning, and thrust onto a table with mallets and knives and cold beer. My first, and probably only crab feast this year happened last weekend, and boy, was it a treat. But it wasn’t to be the only crab I would have even that week. Earlier that morning, the boyfriend and I went to our local farmer’s market and what did we find for sale but soft-shell crabs! While this farmer’s market is sorely lacking in cheeses (if you are ever in Madison, Wisconsin, you must check out their farmer’s market and stock up on squeaky fresh cheese curds) it makes up for it with other local specialties.
Now, I’ve never actually worked with crabs before. That was always mom’s jurisdiction. This was a bit daunting. The crabs were still actually alive as we carried our bounty home, and I stuck them in the fridge, a little unsure after the initial food excitement subsided. How the hell was I to clean and prepare these odd little crustaceans?
Thankfully, my boyfriend’s father knew what to do. As a teenager he had worked in a seafood restaurant where his job had been to clean and prepare crabs, including those of the soft-shell variety (they’re not so much a variety, though, as they are just blue crabs in their molting period–Cooking Light does a nice little write up about them here ). He gave me a quick tutorial, and while now I technically know how to clean them (here’s an online video tutorial), I’m not entirely sure if I’d be able to handle it myself yet if a second time were to come up, though I’m game.
I figured fried and in a sandwich was the best way to serve the crabs. I did not want to overwhelm the crab with batter so that the salty, sea-sweet taste of the crabs would get lost in a fried crust, so I kept things simple and just tossed the crabs in some seasoned flour and quick fried them.
(There should be enough flour for 4 crabs)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup cooking oil (I use canola)
- Clean each crab, rinse with clean, cold water, and pat dry with paper towels.
- Heat up the oil in a frying pan (if you use a deep fryer, you can obviously use more oil, and in that case, heat it up to 375 degrees).
- Combine flour, Old Bay, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl.
- Lightly coat each crab in the flour mixture until the whole crab is evenly coated.
- Pan fry each crab for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until the batter takes on a golden color.
- Remove from heat and let it drain on clean paper towels.
- Serve as is, or in a sandwich.
I served these on rosemary garlic foccacia bread. I’ve had soft-shell crab sandwiches before on toasted white bread, and every time the bread would fall apart in my hands, and in the end I probably should have just eaten it without, but this foccacia was soft but firm, and didn’t fall apart when I bit into the juicy crab. I topped the sandwich off with a little mayo, lettuce, and fresh, organic tomatoes and red onion from the farmer’s market. It was, how you say? delicious.