It amazes me to think I spent more than half of my life not knowing that soft shell crabs existed. Seriously, I didn’t taste my first soft shell, cooked to perfection by my future mother-in-law on her stovetop in Philadelphia, until I was almost 30 years old. Today, Irene’s simple method – sauteeing flour-dredged and salt and generously peppered soft shells in butter – remains my favorite way to enjoy these amazing delicacies. Actually, I don’t cook the soft shells – Mr TBTAM does. His mom taught him, after all.
Sauteed Soft Shell Crabs on a Bed of Leeks
Mr. TBTAM may cook the crabs, but I present them. And tonight, it was on a bed of leeks, with a side of warm herbed potato salad and some sliced tomatoes. We got our crabs from Fairway, where they were so fresh, they wriggled ever so slightly if you touched them. I think these may be the last of this season for us – the shells were just starting to head towards the hard side on the edges. This short season is what makes soft shells so special.
For the leeks
4 large leeks
1 tbsp olive oil (If you can handle the calories, add also a tad of butter..)
Salt and pepper to taste
White wine to deglaze (optional)
Trim off bulb and dark green parts of leeks, then slice longways. Wash thoroughly in a bowl of cold water, rinsing and refreshing several times until all the sand and grit are gone. Drain on paper towels and blot dry. Cut in half again across and then slice very thin. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large saute pan till hot. Add leeks and saute over medium high heat until softened, about 10 -15 minutes, adding salt and pepper about halfway through. Remove leeks from pan to a small bowl. If you want, you can deglaze the pan with 1 tbsp of wine and add to the leeks. Cover with foil to keep warm while sauteeing the crabs.
For the crabs
6 soft shell crabs
1/4 cup flour
salt and pepper
3-4 tbsp butter
In the same pan, melt 2 tbsp butter. Lightly dredge the crabs in flour and sprinkle one side with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add to the pan (salted side down) and saute about 2 minutes till brown. Sprinkle a little more more salt and pepper on top before turning, then add another 1-2 tbsp butter to the pan. Cook another 2 minutes or so till done. If you do it right, this is what your soft shells will look like –
To serve, divide the leeks among the plates and place a crab atop the bed of leeks. Serve with a side of potato salad and sliced tomatoes. Split the remaining two crabs for second helpings. Serves 4.
Warm Herbed Potato Salad
12 small red potatoes (Not the teeny-tiny ones)
1/4 cup mayonnaise (Try 1/8 cup first and that may be enough for you..)
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (I used tarragon, parsley, chives and a tiny bit of mint)
salt and pepper to taste
Clean the potatoes but don’t peel them. Slice into quarters and place in a stock pot, cover with water, add a tsp salt and bring to a boil. turn down heat and simmer till just cooked, but not too soft (about 15 minutes). While they are boiling, chop your herbs and mix them in a small bowl with vinegar and mayo. Drain potatoes, place into serving bowl, pour on dressing and toss gently. Serve warm.