Think Soft Shell NC crabs…an exotic treat. Eating one is like kissing the ocean!
If you haven’t seen one before, the idea of eating soft-shelled crab can be difficult to get your head around. Yes, you really do eat the entire crustacean: claws, head, legs, carapace. And by some miracle of biology (see below) none of it is bony. In fact, they are delicate and sweet, with an interesting, but not off-putting set of soft-and-crunchy textures that work beautifully when the crab has been swiftly deep-fried in a light, crispy tempura batter.
What is a soft-shelled crab?
These really are little miracles of science. A crab’s shell is solid and doesn’t grow with the crustacean itself, so once a year when the crab has outgrown its armour it moults and sheds its old shell before growing a new one. The crab is nude, soft and vulnerable for up to two months, pumped with water to simulate the new, larger size it plans to be, during which time it has to hide from predators and hence can’t eat.
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 4 small (4-inch-wide) live soft-shelled crabs, cleaned
- 1 cup Wondra or all-purpose flour
- 4 tablespoons clarified butter or “brown butter”
- 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Combine milk, salt, and pepper in a shallow dish and soak crabs 5 minutes. Lift 1 crab out of milk, letting excess drip off, and dredge in flour. Knock off excess flour and transfer to a tray. Repeat with remaining crabs, arranging them in 1 layer as coated.
Heat clarified butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté crabs, upside down, 2 minutes. Turn over and sauté until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes more.
Transfer crabs to a serving dish. Add butter pieces to skillet and cook until golden brown with a nutty aroma. Add lemon juice and parsley (mixture will bubble up) and remove from heat.
Season sauce with salt and pepper and drizzle over crabs.
If the crabs you get are larger and don’t fit 4 to the skillet, cook them in batches using more clarified butter.