recipe: soft shell crab pasta + sandwiches
If there's one thing that kicks off early summer for me, it's the arrival of soft shell crab season. The countdown is always torturous (me: "are they here yet?!" fishmonger: "no." "are they here yet??" fishmonger: "no."... "now?" "please stop asking.")
But once they arrive, the trick is to eat them approximately 1,800 times, since they only last a few short weeks and it's russian roulette as to when they'll disappear. (...And yet some how, each year we swear up and down that we'll have them every single meal, and each year we fail and regret everything about our lives.)
The crabs are delicious any and every way, but there are two ways that really let them shine: simple garlicky spaghetti and crisp aioli-rich sandwiches.
We've based our recipe off of Mark Bittman's Pasta with Soft-Shell Crab
- live uncleaned crabs, roughly 1 per person
- pasta, roughly 1/4 lb per person
- olive oil
- red pepper flakes
- salt + pepper
1) Keep the crabs alive until you're ready to cook them. The best way to do this is usually to get them home as soon as possible, and then lay a west papertowel over them and throw them in the fridge. Once ready to begin prep, take them out. Though they're hibernating, you'll usually see their little legs moving -- this is a good thing! If you don't get any reaction, even after poking at them a bit, leave them out for a bit, and try again. If again, nothing, you may be out of luck. A dead crab is a potentially poisonous crab and we do not eat those.
2) Slice up garlic. Chop up parsley. Boil water for pasta.
3) Once the liveliness of the crabs has been established and everyone in the vicinity is suitably freaked out, give them a quick rinse down to get rid of any old gunk. I'd then suggest a quick killing. Their are many methods, none of which are ideal. Our current approach is the supposedly most humane -- a quick jab between the eyes with a skewer or knife. Regardless of approach, I would not recommend anything that involves breaking the shell as you don't want to lose all the juice.
3) Clean the crabs by snipping out the lungs on each side, removing the little butt flap (official name?) and unfortunately, yes, slicing off the face (about an eighth of an inch is more than enough).
4) Heat up oil and add garlic and chili flakes. The goal is to soften the garlic, but not brown or fry it so keep the heat low. Simultaneously boil the pasta.
5) Add the crabs to the garlic pan in their full form.
6) Cook on low heat, roughly 15 minutes, without turning it. You should see the juices run and the shells should remain slightly hard.
7) Hold up a crab over the pan using tongs. With your other hand, use kitchen scissors (or just regular ole scissors cleaned up) to snip up the crab. I'd recommend 1" pieces. As you do this, all the beautiful juice should run into the pan. Repeat on the rest of the crabs.
8) Once the pasta is a little less than al dente, use tongs to add it to the pan. Reserve a cup of the boiling water.
9) As you toss it together, you should see the liquid start to come together around the pasta. Add the pasta water and more oil as needed.
10) When ready to eat, sprinkle with parsley and a bit more oil and salt as needed.
- 1 crab per person, live and uncleaned
- Bread: the options are endless, but I'd recommend something on the thinner side, without a huge crumb. We've been going with less-floury ciabatta, but a thin focaccia would be great as well
- A few tablespoons of flour - the normal baking kind or rice flour is best
- Watercress, just a bit
- Optional: tomato
- Aioli or mayonnaise
1) Pour some flour into a small plate, and salt and pepper it.
2) Heat oil in a pan -- you're aiming for enough to very lightly pan fry, but not so much that you're submerging the crab.
3) Follow steps 1 and 3 above to verify the liveliness of your crabs, clean them off, and then clean out their their little lungs and such. As soon as you've removed the extra bits, dredge in flour. I'd recommend a pretty thin layer -- we're not aiming for deep fried, just enough to add a little crunch and protect it in cooking.
4) Add crabs to oil and cook slowly for about 8 minutes. Flip onto their backs and cook another 7 or so minutes.
5) While they're sputtering away, toast your bread, add mayonnaise or aioli, a layer of avocado (*pro tip: you actually want less than you would for most other sandwiches - it has a tendency to take over texture-wise) and a handful of watercress.
6) Once the crabs are cooked layer into your sandwich, add a squeeze of lemon and bon appetit baby.