Put down the mallet and your minuscule fork, soft shell crabs are in season. While I’m more then happy to work for my food and the occasional struggle that comes from breaking open the hard, red shell of any crustacean, when you can cut out all the work in exchange for an even better product, I’m there. I often flock to the various restaurants, quickly adding these delicacies to their seasonal, summer menus, trying whimsical ways to beat the competition and prove their soft shell crabs are a notch better then the rest.
I decided to conquer the feat at home, selecting three live soft shell crabs from a cardboard box at Citarella. I asked the fishmonger to assist with cleaning the crabs for me, knowing from famed Chef Eric Ripert’s recipe that doing it myself would be slightly complicated.* He was more then happy to help, placing the crabs into a paper container before wrapping them up and sending me on my merry way.
When it comes to such a high quality product, I find simplicity to be the best course of action. Once you get home, I suggest cook the crabs sooner, to maintain the freshness of the ingredient.
The first step is to prepare a buttermilk bath, which sounds as awesome as it seems. Place 1 3/4 cups of buttermilk in a glass tray, adding all of the spices to the tray. I included cayenne, garlic powder, dried parsley, salt, and fresh black pepper.
Add the crabs to the buttermilk, to cover them completely. This will help keep the crabs moist and plump when frying later on.
Place tin foil over the entire container and refrigerate for 1 hour.
In the meantime, begin to prepare the flour mixture. I stayed simple, mixing flour, fresh parsley, kosher salt and fresh black pepper.
At the same time, in a medium sized frying pan, heat vegetable oil. Pour oil to be 2 inches into the pan, heating the oil until 350°. If you do not have a candy thermometer, take a little piece of parsley and drop into the oil. When it hits the oil, it should start sizzling aggressively immediately.
After an hour in the fridge, remove the crabs from the buttermilk, letting the excess drip from each piece. Cooking one at a time, generously coat the crab in the flour mixture.
Cook for three minutes on each side, until the flour turns to a golden brown color. Remove and place on a paper towel to soak up the excess oil. Repeat steps with the other crabs.
I served the Soft Shell Crab with an easy, flavorful Basil Aioli. But feel free to just enjoy the crab without the aioli. Enjoy!
Soft Shell Crabs with Basil Aioli
Soft Shell Crabs:
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon cayenne
- 2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons dried parsley
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 medium soft-shell crabs, cleaned and rinsed
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley
- Pour the buttermilk in a shallow bowl large enough to hold all the crabs
- Season the buttermilk with cayenne, garlic powder, dried parsley, salt, and pepper
- Lay the crabs in the buttermilk mixture and marinate, covered, in the refrigerator for 1 hour
- Remove the crabs from the milk bath and let the excess drip off.
- Pour 2 inches of oil in a heavy frying pan or large pot and heat to 350° F
- Put the flour in a pie dish or plate and season with fresh parsley, salt and pepper
- Dredge the crabs in the seasoned flour to coat, shaking off the excess
- Lay the crabs one at a time in the hot oil in a single layer without crowding (Be careful, the crabs have a tendency to pop and spatter.)
- Cook the crabs for about 3 minutes on each side, turning once, until golden brown
- Drain on paper towels
- 1 cup good mayonnaise
- 10-15 basil leaves, chopped
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon good olive oil
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- Whisk together the mayonnaise, basil, salt, pepper, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic
*instructions to clean Soft Shell Crabs at home: Just before cooking, clean the crabs by cutting off the gills and the apron (the flap under the rear of the crab) as well as the face from just behind the eyes (or have your fishmonger do it) via Grub Street