It happens every year from May to September — Soft-shell crab season. And it’s a time to savor. Especially if you happen to be somewhere near the Chesapeake Bay. Or the Eastern Shore.
My wife and I were lucky enough to live in Washington DC, an evolving food city at the time, where chefs couldn’t wait to get their hands on the first soft-shells of the year. I felt the same way.
When those succulent crustaceans are available, just after they shed their shells, I can’t get enough of them. Sauteed, grilled, or deep-fried, no matter how the soft-shells happen to be prepared, if they’re on the menu, I just have to order them. Every time!
That’s not an exaggeration. On our last summer-time trip back to DC, over the course of a five-day, culinary stay, we managed to have soft-shells every day. Even on the one day we cooked in!
We were staying with our friends Robin and Judy who suggested we cook a mess of soft-shells ourselves one night — knowing how much Trulee and I crave the sweet taste of this seasonal delicacy.
And what a meal that was. The freshest of crabs, simply prepared, sharing the plate with flavorful, just-picked local corn and favas.
In a tiny kitchen, my culinary compadre, Robin, a talented artist and seasoned soft-shell guy, sauteed the crabs in a cast-iron skillet with a bit of butter. Meanwhile, I pan-roasted the corn along with a diced potato that I had par-boiled and a handful of the favas.
We finished the dish with a vibrant olive vinaigrette. Thanks to an old Jean George Vongerichten cookbook that caught our attention.
You might want to try the vinaigrette over grilled or pan-roasted snapper, swordfish or stripped bass. That’s what I’m going to do when I can’t get soft-shells. Just whisk the ingredients together.
1/2 cup thinly sliced green olives
2 Tbsp finely chopped shallots
1 Tbsp capers- rinsed and drained
2 Tsp finely chopped jalapeno
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp + 1 Tsp lime juice
1 Tbsp + 1 Tsp Champagne vinegar
5 Tbsp good quality olive oil
A pinch of smoked salt
But back to the soft-shells. After all of this, some of you might be wondering — if they’re so good just what kind of crabs are they?
They’re blue crabs — that shed their shells as they grow larger. Crabbers typically capture the crabs before they molt and hold them in saltwater tanks. When they shed their shells, the crabs are pulled out of the water which stops a new shell from forming.