FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Mike Hutt
Virginia Marine Products Board
Make Any Occasion
If you've never tasted a soft-shell crab
before, you're in for a special treat. Fried or broiled,
or stir-fried, soft-shells can make a festive meal perfect
for any occasion.
In years past, only those who lived right on the Atlantic
could enjoy the delicate flavor of the soft-shell crab,
which is simply the blue crab in its molting state. Even
if you lived at the water's edge, you could only look forward
to new methods of encouraging crabs to shed their shells,
now everyone across the country has access to that marvelous
species which so intrigued James Michener at the opening
of his book, Chesapeake. Remember the blue heron who cried
out with glee as he swallowed the delicious bits of crab
which Michener calls "the choicest morsel in the bay?"
Soft-shells are every bit as good as Michener led you
to believe--and with a few tips from knowing chefs, you
can prepare unusual, elegant meals for any time of day
with surprising ease.
Depending on where you live, you'll find soft-shell either
live or fresh-frozen. Both are priced according to size,
with the larger crabs being more expensive. To select the
highest quality crab, the best rule is to buy from a seafood
retailer you trust, allowing two to three crabs per person
depending on the size. The retailer is the best guide you
can find to selecting premium quality soft-shells.
If you're buying them live, look for some movement when
the crab is touched. You needn't worry about being pinched
by the crab's claws, because unlike its hard-shell counterparts,
the soft-shell crab is unable to defend itself against
predators. Test the crab's shell to be sure it's very soft.
If you feel resistance, don't buy--the shell is continuing
to harden and will not be as delicious as one which is
Freezing soft-shells doesn't hurt them a bit. The taste
is every bit as good as
a live crab--and defrosting is simple. Just set them
on a plate covered with paper towels and leave them in
the refrigerator overnight.
With soft-shells, you can enjoy even more of the delicious
taste of crab without having to go to the trouble of picking
out the meat. Every part--claws, legs and body--is absolutely
delicious. Once the crab is cleaned, you'll want to savor
Your retailer will probably clean the crabs for you.
If not, you'll want to clean them before you cook. The
cleaning process is simple: Slice across the front of the
crab, removing eyes and sandbags. Lift the points of the
shell and remove the grayish "fingers." Then
turn the crab over and remove the apron from the underside.
Now you're ready to cook.
Soft-shells are so versatile that your biggest problem
may be deciding which way to cook them. Like all seafood,
you must be careful not to overcook, as you want to preserve
the crab's natural moistness.
If you're going to use a sauce with your soft-shells,
you'll probably want to sauté or broil them. To
broil, brush the crabs with melted butter then place them
bottom side up on a rack three inches from the heat. Broil
four to five minutes, then turn them over, brush with more
butter and broil another four to five minutes. Or dust
them with flour and sauté them in butter, top side
down first, for about four minutes on each side.
With both methods, you'll first want to prick each claw
and leg with a fork to prevent them from popping. Serve
with your favorite sauce: hollandaise; garlic and butter;
almandine or soy sauce and clam juice would all make excellent
If you're planning to fry them, you might try coating
them as you would shrimp in a tempura batter and deep-frying.
They'll take four to five minutes in 375 o oil. Or dip
them in beaten eggs, roll in breadcrumbs and fry them top
side first in a pan of hot oil. Drain thoroughly on paper
You can even quarter the crabs and add them to a stir-fry
with a dash of ginger for a sensational variation.
Cooking out? Place your soft-shells in a pan with a sauce
of butter and lots of cracked pepper and set the pan on
the grill. Baste frequently to protect the crab's natural
juices, and get ready for an unusual twist on outdoor cooking
your family will rave about.
If you're serving more crabs than you can cook at one
time, simply place the cooked crabs in an uncovered pan
in a warm oven until you're ready to serve.
Because soft-shells have such a delicate flavor, whatever
you serve with them shouldn't be too overpowering. Try
asparagus, broccoli, cold sliced cucumbers or broiled tomatoes
for color and flavor. Garnish the plate with parsley or
pimento for a plate to relish and remember.
Your guests will be delighted with the Crab Imperial
variation, perfect for elegant candlelight dining.
SOFT-SHELL CRAB IMPERIAL
- 1/4 cup butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup milk
- 2 teaspoons prepared mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon red pepper
- 1 pound backfin crabmeat
- 3 tablespoons butter, melted
- 12 soft-shell crabs, cleaned
- 1 cup fresh buttered breadcrumbs
Cream Sauce: Melt butter in saucepan.
Add flour and blend over low heat, stirring constantly,
for 3-5 minutes. Slowly stir in milk. Cook and stir until
thickened. Blend in mustard, salt, red pepper. Gently fold
Soft-Shell Crabs: Prick legs and claws
of each crab with the tines of a fork to prevent popping.
Place crabs, bottom side up, on a broiling rack 3 inches
from the heat. Brush with melted butter. Broil 4-5 minutes.
Turn over, brush again with butter. Broil 4-5 minutes.
To Assemble: Place about 3 tablespoons
(1/12) of the crab mixture on top of each boiled crab.
Sprinkle with buttered crumbs at serving time, bake in
a preheated 350 o F oven for 15 minutes.
A Virginia version of the traditional Eggs Benedict,
this Crab Stack includes an easy method for hollandaise
sauce. Or substitute your favorite hollandaise for a special
brunch you'll long remember.
- 8 soft-shell crabs, cleaned
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 4 English muffins, split, toasted and buttered
- 8 slices cooked ham, 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick
- 8 slices ripe tomato
- 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups hollandaise sauce
Crabs : Prick legs and claws of each
crab with the tines of a fork to prevent popping. Sauté in
butter about 4 minutes on each side over moderate heat.
Blender Hollandaise : Place in blender:
4 egg yolks, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt,
1/4 teaspoon white pepper and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper.
At medium speed, very slowly add 1 cup butter which has
been melted to bubbling but not browned. Blend an additional
10-12 seconds until sauce is thickened and smooth.
To Assemble : Place toasted English
muffin halves on plate. Top each with ham, then tomato
and cooked crab. Spoon about 3 tablespoons hollandaise
sauce over each. Serve immediately.
For additional information on soft shell crab, visit our
web site at www.vaseafood.org.