EO_Soft Shell_chicken fried, succotash, brown butter vin, local radish

Soft-Shell Crabs Are Here, Y’all!!!

Soft-Shell Crabs are Here, Y’all!!! You do not want to miss out on these darlings of the Lowcountry! Like most crustaceans, blue crabs outgrow their hard outer shells, then they shed them and begin growing a new one.  For a few hours, before it hardens, the new shell is soft, delicate, and edible and delicious!  Personally, I believe the Marine Corps Band should march down Bay St., horns blasting, to celebrate their arrival!!!

I love this painting by Sandra Roper.  A trip down the narrow dirt road called Wharf Street, beside the May River in Bluffton, leads to the old Bluffton Oyster Company where these Gullah women have been working on blue crabs their entire lives.  Some started as young as 12 and, just like the generations before them, they are hard-working, loyal workers with a great sense of pride in everything they do.

may river oyster picker copy 2

This year most of us will need to know how to fix our own – but not to worry.  It’s a whole lot easier than you might expect. Most are sold already killed and cleaned, but if they have not been cleaned, here’s what to do:

Cut out the mouth, eyes and sand sack; flip each crab onto its back, lift the apron and remove the gills and internal organs.  Rinse them well under running water. Once you try it, it’s not so bad.

Deep-Fried Soft Shell Crabs

This method produces a delicate, golden crust encasing the sweet, succulent interior.  This is a thin batter producing an elegant crab.  Many cooks use crumb breading but I prefer a thin, crunchy softshell.

8 soft-shell crabs

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups whole milk

salt and freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup all-purpose flour, divided

vegetable oil, for frying

2 lemons, cut into wedges

cayenne pepper, optional

tartar sauce or remoulade, optional

Clean the crabs and pat them dry.  Beat the eggs together in a large mixing bowl until smooth. Beat in the milk and whisk in about 1/2 cup flour, sifting it over the top a little at a time until it forms a thin batter.  Season with salt and pepper. Add cayenne if you like it spicy. Let this rest for 30 minutes.

Set oven at 180 degrees.  Pour oil into a heavy-bottomed pot or a deep fryer to come no more than halfway up the side.  Heat to 365 degrees.  Spread 1/4 cup flour on a shallow plate.

Stir batter, then roll a crab in flour, shaking off the excess, and dip it into the batter until coated.  Gently lower it into the pot.  Repeat with other crabs until the pan is full but not crowded. Fry, turning once until golden brown.  They will float to the top when done, about 3 minutes per side.  Carefully lift them out with a frying skimmer, drain well, and place them on a cooling rack.  Keep warm in the oven while you finish frying the rest of the crabs.

They are fabulous as a sandwich on toasted buns with tartar sauce or a light remoulade or tartar sauce.


Tartar sauce:

1 cup good mayonnaise

1 cup finely chopped dill pickles

1 tablespoon dill, chopped fine

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon finely chopped onion

Stir it altogether and serve on the side.


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