Now is the season for soft shell crabs here on the US east coast. One of my favorites, the availability is limited to only a couple of weeks a year. In the US, the term ‘soft-shell’ crabs refers to blue crabs that have just recently shed there hard ‘exo-skeleton’, and for a brief time have a ‘soft’ shell until it matures and the shell becomes hard again. While the shell is soft, we can enjoy the entire crab, and you will see it often pan-fried, deep-fried, sauteed, and less commonly, grilled.
Soft shell crabs are a seasonal Venetian treat as well, there referred to as moleche. These crabs are a different species than found here in the US, they are smaller (about 2-3 inches), and are available twice a year – in the fall and spring. Click here to learn more about the moleche.
Every fish restaurant in Venice will feature soft shell crabs on its menu during the season. We were lucky enough to be in Venice last September with one of our Chefs on Bikes trips, and were treated to some wonderful Venetian soft shell crabs are our welcome dinner at Villa Margherita. They were simply sauteed, and served in a very traditional manner with grilled polenta. I have typically deep fried or pan fried them, but decided this year to try an even simpler preparation – grilling.
Cleaning the soft shell crabs here in the US is easy, but not for the faint of heart, as the crabs are alive (or should be, otherwise don’t buy them!). You can have your fishmonger do this if you are planning to prepare them immediately. There are two steps to the cleaning – the first being to remove the ‘face’ of the crab. This is most easily done with a pair of kitchen shears. You make a quick cut across the top of the crab, removing the eyes and ‘head’. The next step is to remove the apron. Flip the crab over on its back, and you will find a large flap which you can pull away from the crab. Again using kitchen shears, cut this flap off. Some people also like to remove the lungs, which you can do through the cut you made as you removed the head. I don’t bother with this step. Now you are ready to fry, saute, or grill your crabs
Grilled Soft Shell Crabs with Spring Onions and Chive-Garlic Scape Mayonnaise
8 soft shell crabs, cleaned
8-12 spring onions (depending on size)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup mayonnaise, preferable homemade
1 tablespoon chives
2 garlic scapes (the top shoot on a garlic plant), coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon capers, preferably salted, rinsed and coarsely chopped
4 cups mixed salad greens
Olive oil for drizzling
Preheat your grill.
Place the crabs and spring onions on a sheet pan, and brush with the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Place the mayonnaise, chives and garlic scapes in a food processor. Blend briefly to combine. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the capers.
Place the crabs and onions on the grill. The crabs will cook fairly quickly; the onions could take longer if they are large, so you could may want to start those first. The shoots on the onions will cook more quickly than the larger bulbs, you can place a sheet of aluminum foil under the shoots to protect them from the heat while the bulbs cook through. The crabs will take about 3 minutes per side.
Serve the crabs on a bed of mixed greens, which have been seasoned with salt and pepper and drizzled with olive oil. Top with the spring garlic and serve with a spoonful of the chive garlic scape mayonnaise on the side.
The mayonnaise is great the next day on a fresh tomato sandwich.
What to serve with it? A nice fresh white – try the Ottella La Creete, from the Lugana DOC in the Veneto, at the southern end of beautiful Lago di Garda.