Tradition has it that the soft-shell crab season is marked with the first full moon in May. This past weekend, which happened to be the last weekend in May—full moon or not—Dick and I bought half a dozen. You want to buy them live, and directions for cleaning the critters are pretty straightforward, assuming you are not squeamish about using scissors to cut out their little faces, gills and flat abdominal apron. Thankfully, our local fish market cleaned and prepared them for us.
You pay for soft-shells according to size, from four to six inches, measured across the back point to point. The largest ones are premium priced, but I’ve never been to a market that sells a variety of sizes.
Soft-shells begin their molting season to accommodate for summer growth. The time it takes for a crab to shed the shell can take anywhere from one to three hours. After that time, the hardening process continues, which reduces the quality of the soft-shell crab.
Our half-dozen crabs were about 4 inches across. Lightly dusted with seasoned flour (salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika) and pan sautéed in a generous combination of olive oil, coconut oil and butter, there is little better. Remove the crabs after cooking three to four minutes per side, deglaze the pan with vermouth (Julia Child’s favorite cooking wine), take the pan off the heat, whisk in cold butter then toss in arugula and a handful of garden herbs, garnish with a wedge of lemon, and voila. With them, try a dry, “elegant” Riesling from Alsace (try F. E. Trimbach).
The soft-shell crab season runs roughly May through September. My method of cooking soft-shells is an easy, quick-prep dinner. The WSJ has some interesting recipes if you’d like to take these treasures to another level.