There are any number of reasons one should know how to clean and cook soft shell crabs — here are my top three:
1. Freshness is essential and they must be cooked right after cleaning.
2. Cleaning soft shell crabs falls into the collection of skills every good cook should possess along with opening oysters, boning fish, boiling lobsters, starting fires.
4. It’s a great opportunity to live out Game of Thrones-style homicidal impulses.
Re #1, soft shell crabs are very fragile, extremely perishable and must be cooked within an hour or two of cleaning. Which leaves you two choices: a fast drive home from the fishmonger or a more leisurely home preparation. Plus when you clean them you are certain if they were indeed alive.
Re #2, not being able to make your own puff pastry is understandable — but one should at least match the skills of a boy scout.
Re #3, unlike the stab-the-lobster-in-the-back-of-the-head trick (very swift, a la House of Stark), cleaning soft shell crabs is gnarly business (see House of Lannister, Joffrey Baratheon, Ramsay Snow et al.). If you don’t do the deed someone or something else will – the fish guy or a cannibalistic fellow blue crab.
Live soft shell crabs are sold tucked into neat rows in cardboard flats and usually the only perceptible vivacity is a bit of bubbling at the mouth. Handle with care or the claws and legs might fall off. Once home, any more than two or three hours in the fridge can be lethal so it’s best to keep them cool on a bed of ice until their time is up.
As shown in this no budget video there are three simple steps using kitchen scissors. The first fatal snip cuts off the face. Get rid of the eyes and teeth; also the edge above the face is the first part of the shell to harden. The second snip cuts off the tail, also called the apron. Then the points of the shell are turned back and the spongy gills are trimmed off.
Dredge lightly in flour, fry in hot butter for four to five minutes per side until brown and crispy. Smaller crabs cook more quickly of course; for larger ones do allow enough time to cook through. I can report from experience that underdone soft shell crabs are not delightful.
Squeeze in fresh lemon juice, toss in some capers and a flurry of parsley. Serve immediately.
Check out these other Spectacularly Delicious Soft Shell Crab Recipes: