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?
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.