Seasonal Chef: Grilled Soft Shell Crabs with an Easy Spicy Slaw

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Memorial Day is just a few days away and everyone will be grilling hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken. Why not do something a little bit different? Soft shell crabs are in season right now, but only for a week or two more. They are incredibly easy to cook and a favorite of most fish lovers. This past week I paid a visit to my favorite fish monger Lou, at Port Chester Seafood to see what he had for my Memorial Day barbecue, and suggested I give the soft shell crab a try. I’m happy to report everyone in my house was quite happy with the end result, so I wanted to share it with you! Recently Megan McCaffrey did a piece on soft shell crabs when they hit the markets last month.

What exactly are soft shell crabs? First off they are just regular, hard shell crabs (most often blue crabs) at a particular stage of growth. For a crab to become larger, it must first shed its old shell and form a new one, which it does periodically throughout its life. To do this, it forms a new ‘coat’ under its old shell, then swells itself up enough to cause the top and bottom halves of the shell to separate, starting at the back. The crab inside, in its new, soft ‘coat,’ is flexible enough to back out of the old shell. Amazing!

Soft-shell crabs are shipped generally from Maryland, North & South Carolina and Louisiana. They are alive after harvest and kept moist and cool in wet newspaper and straw. When purchasing you want to go to a reputable fish monger, to assure you are getting the freshest possible product. (Well, that goes for all fish!) Motion and heat are the biggest factors affecting the soft shell crab mortality. They should be alive and show signs of movement in the case. The only real indicator to determine the freshness of the crab is the smell. Crabs that have a distinct ammonia odor should not be purchased or served.

soft shell crabs

They need to be cleaned and prepped before cooking so have your fish monger do that when you purchase it. The beauty of this ingredient is you can eat the entire thing. Plan to cook it within 12 -24 hours after purchase. Cooking soft shell crabs could not be easier. You can pan try them with a little butter, garlic and wine, or bread them with a bit of corn meal and pan fry. I decided to go the grilled route with mine this week.

After a quick simple seasoning of olive oil, salt and pepper I placed them on a little grill pan. The last thing you need is for those little buggers to fall through the grates. Three to four minutes on each side is all you need. They should be firm to the touch, but not rock hard.  Just about the best thing you can serve your soft shell crabs with is a nice slaw. Last year I created an Easy Radish Slaw, also for soft shell crabs; but decided to change things up.

slicing fennel

Let me also say that slaws are really easy to put together. You just need some type of acid to break down the vegetable to render it soft and pliable. Typically slaws are made with cabbage, but radish, carrot and fennel works well too. Be creative with your flavors: lemon, lime or various vinegars mixed with your favorite spices, seeds and herbs. I started with a nice big fennel bulb and sliced it very thin on my mandolin.

Making a fennel slaw

To that I added lemon zest, juice, jalapeño and cilantro. I even had a few ramps left and threw those in too. A drizzle of olive oil, and a pinch of sugar for balance.

Once the lemon hits the fennel it will become soft. You can add as much or as little of the jalapeño as you like. With my one fennel bulb I just used half a seeded pepper, sliced thin, and it was just perfect.

Spicy Fennel Slaw

If you can, let the slaw sit for a bit in the fridge before serving. That will give the flavors a chance to come together.

Grilled Soft Shell Crab with Spicy Fennel Slaw

The finished product, Grill Soft Shell Crabs with Spicy Fennel Slaw.

While I haven’t tested it just yet, I am sure this slaw would be delicious on grilled chicken or even a nice juicy hot dog.

If you are out and about this weekend stop by the Rye Down to Earth Market, in Rye, NY. I will be demoing my Ramp Pesto Pasta recipe from 11:00-1:00

Happy grilling and Buon Appetito!

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About Author

Seasonal Chef blogger Maria Reina comes to the world of food as a third career, spending a great portion of her adult life in the field of Human Resources. With her private company Bella Cucina Maria she is a personal chef, caterer and recreational cooking class teacher in Westchester. She's an avid food television watcher and cookbook collector, always looking for a new take on a traditional dish. In her free time she loves hanging out at local farmer's markets, chatting it up with the farmers and doing cooking demos with their seasonal ingredients. In addition to her blog, which is loaded with easy recipes, you can follow her on Facebook (Bella Cucina Maria), Twitter (Bellacucinam), Instagram (Bellacucinam) and Pinterest (Bellacucinam).

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