Soft shells in a display case at the Marshall IGA.
After cleaning them, it takes only minutes to cook soft shells.
Decades have passed since I had my first soft shell crab. I was maybe 18 and visiting my relatives in Connecticut.
My grandfather had taken me to lunch at the country club in Greenwich, which was quite a treat. He asked if I had ever tried soft shells, and I admitted that I hadn’t.
“Well you should,” he said.
So, not to offend him, I did.
And now every year in late spring or early summer, I order them whenever I have the opportunity.
For those of you that don’t know, soft shells are just that – crabs that have shed their shells so they can continue to grow. This happens but once a year.
They’re served in a variety of ways – deep-fried, sautéed or grilled — as a sandwich or an entrée.
Right now, many restaurants have them as their specials, as appetizers or entrees.
Not much needs to be done to prepare this delicacy. The less added, the better they taste. Soft shells from the Northern Neck are available at the IGA in Marshall, the only place in Fauquier I’ve been able to find them so far this season.
Sautéed soft shell crabs
4 to 6 soft shell crabs (depending on size)
6 tablespoons of butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of 1 lemon
When buying soft shells they should still be alive. You’ll see them gurgling or twitching a little. Ask the person behind the counter if he or she might clean them for you. But, if not, it’s easy.
With sharp scissors cut the face off, a quarter-inch just behind the eyes. There will be a little sac there; that’s where the sand gets filtered. You’ll want to remove the sac. Then on either side lift the soft shell and remove the gills, commonly known as “dead man’s fingers.” And lastly, turn the crab over and remove the skirt by cutting across the base.
Now that your crabs are prepped, season them with salt and pepper. Melt the butter in a cast iron pan; then place the crabs in the pan and cook over a medium heat for three minutes. Turn and sauté for another three minutes and then turn one more for another three minutes. Squeeze lemon juice over the crabs and serve with parsley as garnish.