A sure sign of late spring is the arrival of soft-shell crabs. They’re not a different species; they’re simply blue crabs caught in between shedding their old shells and the hardening of their new ones. For a short time, the carapace is parchment paper thin – and completely edible. Chefs love to deep fry or sauté them, which bolsters their crackly, crunchy texture while preserving the sweet, slightly briny meat hiding inside. Here are seven stellar soft-shell crab dishes you’ll want to get your claws on.
KYU, Miami, Florida
Bao-wow-wow-yippie-yo-yippie-yay. Everybody, let me hear ya say, bao buns are the bomb. Chef Michael Lewis paints the puffy slips with shiso aioli and packs them with deep fried soft shells, verdant shiso leaves, and house-made pickles. Make a reservation at KYU.
Charlie Palmer Steak, New York, New York
Simplicity is the key to success with soft-shells. Executive chef Ryan Lory rests his on a bed of artichokes and chive blossoms lavished with a preserved lemon and caper sauce. It adds up to a Mediterranean-minded twist on a Chesapeake classic. Make a reservation at Charlie Palmer Steak.
DÔA, Miami Beach, Florida
Give me some of that dim sum yum-yum. You’re going to be tempted to challenge your tablemate to a cage match over these spongy bao buns. Chock full of tempura battered soft-shell crab, lime mayonnaise, fresh shiso leaves, and pickled cucumber rounds, they are all the yums. Make a reservation at DÔA.
Bodega Negra, New York, New York
We could spend a lifetime writing sonnets, haikus, and limericks galore about how much we love tacos. This one is a wellspring of inspiration, full of lightly battered and deftly fried soft shell crabs, plus guacamole, lettuce shreds, and chipotle aioli. There once was a taco from New York…. Make a reservation at Bodega Negra.
NaiYaRa, Miami Beach, Florida
Openly available during brunch, these soft-shell Thai buns are also available during dinner as an off-menu item for those that know to ask. The blue ribbon buns are packed with soft shell crabs, eel mayonnaise, and homemade pickles. #clawesome. Make a reservation at NaiYaRa.
Hazel, Washington, D.C.
Inspired by nachos – yes, you read that correctly – executive chef Rob Rubba uses five halved, tempura-fried crabs dusted with chili salt as “chips.” Then he layers on a ton of toppings: fish sauce caramel amped with bird’s eye chilies, fried garlic, Thai basil, chives, scallions, jalapeños, and spring radish. Make a reservation at Hazel.
Zuma, Miami, Florida
This age watarigani (fried soft-shell crab) has the artful simplicity of a Japanese rock garden. A halved crab presented claws up is presented with wasabi mayonnaise perked up with a dash of peppery mizuna. It all adds up to dip trip flip fantasia. Make a reservation at Zuma.
Where have you had the best soft-shell crab dishes of the season? Let us know where here or over on Facebook, G+, Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter. And, remember to snap + share your #dishpics with us on Instagram for a chance to win in our weekly giveaway.
Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell and Instagram @nevinmartell.
Photo credit: Melissa Hom (Bodega Negra); Juan Fernando Ayora/Lucky Frog Studios (KYU).