Thursday, April 27, 2006

Soft Shell Crabs - Just in from the Chesapeake Bay


Let the soft shell crab season begin! Soft shell crabs have just come in season this week and will be available from now through August. If you have never tried them, now's the time (recipe below). Call your local fish market and see if they have some.

Some of you might be wondering, "What is a soft shell crab exactly?" Well, a soft-shell crab is a blue crab that has just shed its shell in order to grow. They are 20-30% larger than normal at this point so they are even more delicious and meaty than usual. See how they molt.

Soft shell crabs are often called Maryland crabs as well because they are primarily found there in the Chesapeake Bay. However, according to a very informative blue crab website, "the range of the blue crab is from Nova Scotia, down the east coast of North America, off Bermuda, throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea (including the Antilles Islands), and down the east coast of South America to northern Argentina. Although the blue crab is rarely found north of Cape Cod, it has been seen in Maine and Nova Scotia following consecutive warm years."

You also might be wondering, "Do you actually eat the whole crab, body and all?" Pretty much. The fishmonger removes some gills, the eyes and a part called the "apron," but other than that, you eat it all. This might seem weird to those who have only eaten hard shell crabs. But try to put that out of your mind. It is not like biting into a shell. It is like biting into a sweet, juicy crab festival with a little crunch to it. They're out of this world. And very easy to cook. I look forward to them every year. Below is a simple recipe so you have no excuse not to try them.



Cornmeal-Crusted Soft Shell Crabs Recipe

Cleaning or "Dressing" the Crabs
Ask the fishmonger to clean the crabs for you. It only takes them a minute and saves you the hassle. If you would like to know how to clean them yourself, it's actually pretty easy. Here's how.

Ingredients:
Soft shell crabs (1 - 2 for each person)
Whole milk or butter milk (enough to cover the crabs)
Corn meal
Salt & Pepper to taste
Olive oil or canola oil

How to:
1. Put the crabs in a bowl and cover with the milk. Let sit for 1/2 hour.
2. Place about 4 cups of corn meal in a large plate or platter and season with salt and pepper.
3. Coat the bottom of a non-stick or cast iron pan with oil and let it get hot.
4. Remove the crabs from the bowl one at a time, dredge in the corn meal mixture and put in the pan.
5. Fry the crabs about 4 minutes on each side (or until nicely browned)
6. Squeeze a little lemon over the crabs. Add a bit more salt if needed.
7. You can serve the crabs a number of ways. I plated them over greens with guacamole and browned linguica on the side (as pictured at the top of the page). You can also simply put one in a sandwich on a fresh roll or thick grilled slices of bread with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise.

Enjoy!!

Where to buy them in the Boston area:
As I mentioned, I recommend calling your local fish market or Whole Foods and asking them if and when they have soft shell crabs. I got mine at the Courthouse Fish Market and they were live and delicious. The fishmonger even cleaned them for me and showed me how to do it myself for future reference.

Courthouse Fish Market, 298 Cambridge Street, East Cambridge (midway between Inman Square and the Cambridgeside Galleria)

Where to buy them online:
www.crabplace.com

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