Soft shell crabs may seem like they’re a different species due to their unique deliciousness; however, 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 stellar soft-shell crab dishes you’ll want to get your claws on. Not near any of these spots? Find a restaurant near you on OpenTable.
Wayward Smokehouse, Baltimore, Maryland
Borrowing its name from the fast food joint on SpongeBob SquarePants, this applewood smoked chicken fried soft shell is so much better than a Krabby Patty. Arriving on a potato bun, it’s slathered with Old Bay mayo and topped with tomato and lettuce. We’re sure SpongeBob would approve. Make a reservation at Wayward Smokehouse.
GW Fins, New Orleans, Louisiana
The kitchen heralds the season by serving up soft shells. One favored preparation is to tempura fry them and serve them with cashew brown butter sauce. Another go-to is to slip the crusty crustaceans into a BLT. Make a reservation at GW Fins.
il Giallo Osteria & Bar, Atlanta, Georgia
One of the most popular presentations of the many they serve features tempura fried clawboys atop freshly made pasta tossed in seafood cream sauce. Make a reservation at il Giallo Osteria & Bar.
Mirabelle, Washington, D.C.
These are special sliders. Buttered Parker House rolls are packed with crispity, crunchity soft shell crab, chili garlic pickles, and tartar sauce. Dainty and delightful. Make a reservation at Mirabelle.
Dirty Habit, Washington, D.C.
Fried and split in half, a soft shell is presented with a flavorful mélange of vegetables. Napa cabbage, jalapeño, red pepper, asparagus, celery, and scallions are tossed in cilantro hoisin sauce. The sophisticated salad brings a rush of freshness to the rich sweetness of the crab. Make a reservation at Dirty Habit.
Zuma, Las Vegas, Nevada
Take a look at this eye-catching age watarigani (fried soft shell crab). The halved crab is presented claws up with wasabi mayonnaise and a dash of peppery mizuna. You’re welcome to use a knife and fork, but real pros use their hands. Make a reservation at Zuma.
Daniel, New York, New York
Grab a seat at the bar to score this soft shell. Tempura fried soft shell comes with miso Hollandaise for dunking. No one will judge you if you don’t share. Make a reservation at Daniel.
The Salt Line, Washington, D.C.
Executive chef Kyle Bailey brings a Nashville hot sensibility to his soft shells. They’re buttermilk marinated, double dredged, and black garlic honey slathered. Topped with a juicy round of green tomato, it arrives on a triangle of white bread. Make a reservation at The Salt Line.
Landini Brothers, Alexandria, Virginia
Sourcing their soft shells from Easton, Maryland, the restaurant offers two preparations. At lunch, the crabs are lightly dusted with flour, pan fried, and served atop penne arrabiata. In the evening, the crabs are prepared similarly but served with roasted fingerling potatoes and broccoli instead. Make a reservation at Landini Brothers.
Shaw’s Crab House, Chicago, Illinois
These clawesome crustaceans come from South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland. The jumbo-sized crabs are served tempura fried or sautéed with the guest’s choice of lemon or garlic butter. Either way, you’re in for a treat. Make a reservation at Shaw’s Crab House.
Rye Street Tavern, Baltimore, Maryland
It turns out you can improve on a classic. Meet the CBLT. Fried soft shell crab is complemented with house-cured bacon, lettuce, tomato, and herb aioli. Make a reservation at Rye Street Tavern.
Bourbon Steak, Washington, D.C.
Executive chef Drew Adams grew up crabbing in Maryland, so this dish is personal. His elegant preparation features an unexpected Thai influence. Fried soft shell crab gets an assist from white asparagus, kaffir lime, and coconut milk. Make a reservation at Bourbon Steak.
Who serves your favorite soft shell crab dishes? Let us know here or over on Facebook, 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 credits: Racquel Sharma (Dirty Habit). Noah Fecks (Rye Street Tavern); Lettuce Entertain You (Shaw’s Crab House).