I didn’t understand the hype about soft shell crab until I had it for the first time about 10 years ago. The first experience was tremendously special: a spider roll from a Japanese restaurant. The legs and claws were hanging out of the rice, waving and almost winking at me, and the fried crab was scandalously tasty. Having seen it before yet never really trying it, it made no sense to me how anyone could eat the entire crab whole without hurting yourself in the process. But then I understood… and it’s been a spiral downward into the summery goodness that is soft shell crab.
If you’re not aware of what a soft shell crab really is, it’s just a blue crab that is in the midst of its molting process and the exoskeleton is still soft enough to eat whole. It is truly a summer treat, as you can only find it from April to September – even September is a little too late in my opinion. Soft shell crabs should be live when you get them and you can always ask your purveyor to clean them for you. Freshness is EVERYTHING with these guys. If you’re feeling adventurous and can take the graphic nature of it, you can clean your own crab at home (see this CHOW.com video on how). If you cringed watching it, then maybe you should consider going vegan instead. Everyone needs to understand and respect where their food comes from. Turning a blind eye to the fact that the crab has to die in order to make it to your plate does not shirk your responsibility as a consumer.
Many limit their soft shell crab experience to just fried crab. No offense, but it’s not the only way to enjoy this sexy delicacy. Seasoning it and pan frying it is one of the simplest ways to prepare the crab while retaining much of its natural flavor in the process. Another way to do it is to make a sandwich of it! Yes, a sandwich. After speaking to a couple of people, they were astounded that it could be had on a bun. Of course it can, friends! Buns don’t discriminate. So I put together this easy “Asian-style” marinade and kept the whole thing down home comfortable. Keep in mind, the sandwich is meant to be oversized for shock value, but you don’t have to eat it in one sitting.
Here’s my recipe for a Soft-Shell Crab Sandwich w/ Avocado.
Soft Shell Crab with Avocado
2 servings (depends on how hungry you are!)
Preparation time: 40 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
4 soft shell crabs (cleaned)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3/4 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon red hot pepper sauce
1 tablespoon canola oil (for pan frying)
2 kaiser rolls, halved horizontally
Seasoned mayonnaise (recipe below)
Iceberg lettuce (as needed)
Beefsteak tomato (as needed)
1/2 haas avocado, (ripe, sliced into 8 even slices)
Salt (as needed)
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
3/4 tablespoon ketchup
1/2 teaspoon red hot pepper sauce
1/2 teaspoon karashi (Japanese mustard)
dash of black pepper
dash of soy sauce
1. Place the crabs, soy sauce, chili powder, black pepper, garlic powder and hot pepper sauce into a plastic freezer bag and close. Thoroughly coat the crabs with the mixture until uniformly coated. Allow it to marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes.
2. While the crabs are marinating, mix all ingredients for the seasoned mayonnaise and set aside.
3. Slice enough tomatoes to put on your sandwich (two to three thin slices is sufficient) and set aside. Tear off manageable sized pieces of lettuce to put on the sandwich. Make sure the lettuce leaves are washed and dried; set aside. Lastly, slice your avocado half into 8 slices and set aside.
4. About 5 minutes before you start cooking the crab, place the kaiser rolls on a small sheet pan for toasting in the oven at 350 deg F. You may use whatever device is in your arsenal to toast the rolls.
5. Remove the crabs from the refrigerator. Using a medium frying pan, heat the oil. Shake the excess liquid from the crabs and when the oil is hot enough, carefully put all four of them into the pan face down. Some crabs can be a little larger than others, so carefully watch the cooking time. Leave them face down for 3 minutes on medium high heat.
6. During this 3 minutes, remove the toasted rolls from the oven and place on two plates. Leave the bottom half of the roll accessible for layering the sandwich components.Keep an eye on the crab while you are prepping the plate.
7. Use your tongs to turn the crab over; it should be a reddish color typical of cooked seafood. Allow it to cook for 3 minutes more. While waiting, spread some mayonnaise on both sides of each bun. Once cooked, remove the crab from the pan and place in a warming plate or sizzle platter for a minute or two while you compose the sandwich.
8. Layering the sandwich is subjective but my suggested way to layer it is: lettuce, two slices of tomato, avocado slices (sprinkle a dash of salt at this point), then the 2 crabs. Angle the crabs so that it sits comfortably on the bun or you have the option of cutting it in 1/2 instead.
9. Serve the sandwich open with the top part of the bun angled off the layers.
I suggest serving this sandwich with either a nice IPA beer or a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Non-alcoholic options would be a fruit-infused iced tea (strawberries or lemon are nice).
I hope everyone enjoys this recipe!