I’ll freely admit to you: I have trouble pinning down soft-shell crab season. Some years it seems to be early summer, other years it’s very late summer, almost into the fall. Some summers have fishmongers featuring these elusive beauties week after week, and other summers you miss them if you blink. I have not figured it out.
What I have figured out though, is that soft-shell crabs are rather polarizing and can inject friction into otherwise happy marriages, like my own. I absolutely ADORE soft-shell crabs and my version of heaven would be waters with mutant crabs that never grew their shell back, so I could feast on them year-round.
Matt, on the other hand, isn’t so much of a fan. He’ll be a good sport and pick at them when I insist on making them, but he doesn’t smile at all during those dinners and he described their texture as “soggy fingernails.” ???
So, if you happen to agree with my darling husband, just click on, for this post may not be your cup of tea. If you are like me though, you most definitely want to make these babies, the sooner the better. I’ve made soft-shell crabs every which way, from grilled in a sandwich, to sautéed over pasta, to breaded and fried. And these beer-battered and deep-fried crabs are by far the best I’ve ever tasted. The batter gets so crispy in the hot oil, but it somehow melds perfectly with the moisture of the crabs when you take a bite. They were so insanely delicious, and even Matt admitted that they were growing on him as he ate.
So if you are a soft-shell crab fiend such as myself, please make these as soon as you can. You’ll love me (and chef Donald Link) forever.
Source: slightly adapted from Down South by Donald Link
1 cup cake flour (can sub in rice flour)
1 tbs all-purpose flour
About ¾ cup beer
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
¼ tsp cayenne
Vegetable oil, for deep frying
4 medium to large soft-shell crabs, or up to 8 small crabs
2 tbs unsalted butter, cold
3 tbs chicken stock
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp drained brined capers
½ tsp minced garlic
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
First make the beer batter: in a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, all-purpose flour, beer, salt, black pepper, and cayenne. The batter should be thin enough to barely coat your fingers.
Fill a medium pot with about 3 inches of oil and heat to 350 F.
Cut the crabs in half lengthwise, right down the midsection (make your cut where the chest cavity meets). Pat them very dry with paper towels.
Place the crab pieces in the bowl of batter and gently toss to thoroughly coat each piece. Carefully take each piece out of the batter and let the excess drip off for a second, then carefully place them in the hot oil. Fry until light golden brown, about 2 minutes, flipping once if needed. Do not crowd the pot – do this in batches if need be. Transfer the fried crab pieces to a paper towel lined plate.
Once the crabs are done, make the meuniere sauce. It goes quickly, but for best results, have everything prepped for the sauce before you start frying crabs, then throw the sauce together as soon as the crabs are done.
For the sauce, heat a small skillet or pot over medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot, add 1 tbs butter and swirl to coat. When it starts to turn golden brown (and this will only take about a minute), add the chicken stock, lemon juice, capers, garlic and red pepper flakes. Slightly reduce the heat and simmer until reduced by half, which again only takes about a minute. Remove from the heat and swirl in the remaining 1 tbs butter.
Transfer the crabs to a plate or platter and douse liberally with the meuniere sauce. Serve immediately.