For a first timer, eating soft shell crabs can be a strange experience. The plate arrives with an entire crab ready to be eaten, legs and all. Yes, you eat the entire thing! Don’t be afraid, any trepidation will be gone in one bite. This is THE crab-lovers crab sandwich.
Soft shells are blue crabs that recently molted their exoskeleton. They must be immediately harvested after they molt, before they start hardening again. During the molting process, they fatten themselves up to survive the ordeal. This creates a intense, full crab flavor that can be found in any other dish. Once molted, they are soft enough to eat the entire thing. You can buy soft shells still alive and clean them yourself. But, I recommend having the fish guy or gal clean them for you. Basically they just remove the undesirable parts – gills, mouth pieces, etc. If you’re interested, here’s a great tutorial from Serious Eats on how to DIY it.
People go crazy over soft shell crabs in general, but most notably on the DelMarVa Peninsula (Delaware, Maryland, Virgina… and also the Southern PA area). My husband and in-laws fall into that category. If a soft shell crab is on a menu, they are all ordering one. I understand the fanaticism… soft shells have a short season and there aren’t many available. They can be extremely hard to come by, it took me nearly 2 weeks to snag these.
One of our favorite spots in Baltimore, that we specifically go to for the soft shell sandwich, is LP Steamers. The soft shells at Steamers have become the stuff of legends. They pan sear huge softshells in a sauté pan with butter and some Old Bay. The kicker? It’s stuffed with jumbo lump crabmeat. When you take a bite there is an explosion of blue crab. It comes right out of the pan to your table and tastes incredible… hot, crispy, rich and most importantly, crab-tastic. I usually tempt my allergies to get a bite or two, the crispy fried legs are my favorite!
Playing on LP Steamers minimalist approach, I only used a few ingredients to season my soft shells: flour, Old Bay and butter for sautéing. That’s all you need, just like crab balls, you want the predominate flavor to be crab. The other ingredients are for enhancing, they’re not the stars of the show. The flour helps crisp up them up and Old Bay is pretty much a given with any crab recipe in this house. And butter goes well with many seafood dishes, including this one.
Toss these badboys on a soft roll, fresh tomato and cool, crisp lettuce and this is a sandwich you won’t forget! So, ready to give them a try?
If you already make these at home, let me know how you do it in the comments!
Soft Shell Crab Sandwich
4 soft shell crabs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon Old Bay
4 slices white bread or 2 rolls, toasted optional
1 small tomato, sliced
green leaf lettuce
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoon olive oil
mayonnaise or Rèmoulade sauce (optional)
salt + pepper
Makes 2 sandwiches
We like using 2 crabs per sandwich. It’s often served that way in Maryland and who can stop at just one? If that is too rich for your preference, just use 1 crab.
If you are toasting your bread or rolls, do it now. Slice tomatoes and clean lettuce. Set aside.
Mix flour and Old Bay together. Gently dredge crabs through flour mixture.
Using a cast iron skillet, heat butter and olive oil over medium-high heat.
Add crabs to skillet and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side or until golden, you may need to add more butter and oil. Do not overcook.
A traditional Maryland way of serving these is on toasted white bread with lettuce, tomato and optional mayonnaise or Rèmoulade.