Monday, May 7, 2012

The Joys of Spring

Remember this book?

Back in October I celebrated the arrival of Virginia Willis' second book but I've been waiting until now to make one special recipe. Grilled Stuffed Soft Shell Crabs with Lemon Gemolata.  What exactly are soft shell crabs?

gumbo crab1

The Atlantic Blue Crab (Callinecties sapidus or beautiful swimmer) has a life span of roughly three years.  During those years the crab molts or sheds it's shell in order to grow.  Since it takes a few hours for the crab's shell to become hard again, crabmen of the Chesapeake Bay have developed numerous methods of finding and harvesting soft shell crabs.  Luckily for me there's a couple of sources for unfrozen soft shells that show up here in Kansas City in early May.  However if the fishmonger is not in (as happened to me at this particular store), you may end up cleaning them yourself like I had to do because the fishmonger's assistant was too grossed out to barely touch the un-moving crabs.


Not that it was a problem since cleaning is fairly simple but should only be done just before you plan on cooking your soft shells.  Cut off the flap on the underside of the crab (it's either shaped like the Washington Monument (for males) or the Capitol Dome (for females).  Next lift up the pointy flap of each side of the top shell.  Underneath you'll find the lungs which you need to snip off with scissors.  Finally you need to cut off the front edge of the crab, just behind the eyes.


Usually the simplest way to cook soft shell crabs is normally your best bet.  Most folks dust them with a flour mixture, fry them and them plop them between two slices of white bread for a quick sammie.  Virginia keeps it simple also by grilling them with just a bit of shrimp filling and a little zesty lemon gremolota


Ideally softshells should be cooked and eaten on the day they were captured to ensure that lovely sweet crab meat taste.To a confirmed omnivore and a lover of all things Chesapeake Bay, it's a beautiful thing.  But not everyone enjoys the concept of eating the entire crab no matter how it's cooked.  This does not bother me in the least.


Just leaves more crunchy legs for me.


kathy said...

A few hours?!?!
Holy dungeness, Batman!

I knew about soft shell but I figured they stayed that way all the time (for your convenience so to speak).

Dani said...

What beautiful photos! Makes me wish I could just reach in and grab one.

Big Shamu said...

Yes, Kathy, roughly three hours. However once you remove a crab that has just shed his shell from the water, the soft shell cannot harden. You just gotta catch them in that 3 hour window. Hence Peeler Pounds.

Dani, I'm betting it's easier for you to get soft shells than it is for me.

MakingSpace said...

OMG where have I been. Damn finals week to hell. Anyway, due to the Magic of Photography I can pretend to enjoy these beautiful thaings with abandon now that I'm all done with skewl for a while.

I totally agree with Dani about wanting to reach in and grab one.

moi said...

I took one look at your photos and my mouth actually started watering . . . My stepfather is from Bal'more and used to have these flown in when I was a kid. We ate ours between slices of soft Italian bread, with mayo and mustard.

BTW, I've been on a lemon kick lately. Lots of gremolata, mostly because I have an abundance of parsley. I put it on everything. Well, not icecream.

Captain Obvious said...


Captain Obvious feels sorry for people who:

-Can't enjoy a softshell crab.

-Can't buy or cook a whole fish(or any whole, small animal like a chicken) . Yes, you do know a fish was living once with a head and eyes. It isn't born filleted and entombed in plastic wrap and styrofoam). CO once saw a kid CRY and was freaked out when he saw whole fish at a store once. CO is guessing mommy and daddy only bought that tuna stuff that was born in a can and yes, CO has caught tuna before.

-Can't enjoy shrimp heads or crab butter.

Big Shamu said...

MS, have you ever had a soft shell crab?

Moi, you know I love Baltimore, usually for the crab cakes. OK, let's face it, crab in any form makes me happy. Gremolata is amazing and a good reason to grow parsley.

CO, I don't feel sorry for those who do not enjoy soft shell crabs. I pity them. But I'm kinda glad too because the Chesapeake crab population needs no more stress.

I do feel sorry for any kid who doesn't learn how to fish (or crab), that's just sad.

MakingSpace said...

Fourth image down on this link shows the local (teeeeeeny) a'ama crab - a quick google revealed that the boring English name for the a'ama is black sand crab (yawn). People do go crabbing for them and eat them. Since one fits comfortably in the palm of a small hand you can imagine the work involved in catching your lunch. I have not partaken, not having been to a gathering where they were offered, and I'm that sad kid who doesn't crab or fish so...

So I haven't seen or eaten soft shell crabs but I've probably stepped on a few a'ama in my time, oops. They're freakin' everywhere.

Captain Obvious said...

BS-The interesting(but sad due to overfishing) thing about the whole Blue Crab sustainability down there is that NY has been exporting their catch of blue crabs down there for a while now.

The last time CO wen to Baltimore to visit friends, CO was very disappointed by the crab cake. It was more like cake with minimal crab scraps.