Soft shells are much easier to cook at home than you might think. This soft shell crab recipe with salad and a fabulous spicy sauce helps you easily make the most of their fleeting season, all in about 20 minutes.
Why we love this recipe
Soft shells sometimes get called "potato chips of the sea," and I think that's a perfect representation of why I adore them. They pack tons of umami and a crisp outside, tender inside texture combo that's totally delightful.
This salad lets them shine without overshadowing them in the least. It's got:
- Crisp spring greens
- A low-key but spot-on veggie mix
- The best-ever spicy mayo for dressing
I first published this recipe here way back in 2010. I've updated the post for clarity, but the recipe remains the same. If you like, you can scroll down below the recipe card to read the original story.
What you'll need
Here's a glance at the ingredients you'll need to make this recipe.
- Soft shell crabs are not a different variety of crab but rather creatures of a moment in time. These crabs have recently molted, and their new shells are still so soft as to be edible. Buy very fresh crabs from a source you trust, and ask the fishmonger to clean them for you. Learn more about them here.
- Here's where to find the spicy mayo. Make the slightly fancier version with all four of the ingredients (Kewpie mayo, sriracha, soy sauce, and shallot).
- For salad veggies, I like to use creamy avocado, beautiful mixed cherry tomatoes, and English cucumber.
- You can use any greens you like. I've pictured a mix of soft lettuces in the finished dish and pea shoots here.
How to make it
Here's what you'll do to make a beautiful soft shell crab salad. It's easy, I promise. You can see the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get all the details in the recipe card below.
- Dredge the cleaned soft shells in the flour until they're lightly coated.
- Heat the oil and butter and then add the crabs shell-side down. Cook for five minutes on the first side, then flip and cook about three minutes more. Be careful — they spatter sometimes toward the end of cooking.
- Arrange a bed of greens and some veggies in each serving bowl. I like to use wide, shallow bowls. Plates would work, too.
- Place two crabs on each serving and drizzle with the dressing. You're ready to serve!
Expert tips and FAQs
I prefer to buy soft shells on the same day I'm going to serve them (or even the day before) and have them cleaned at the fish store. If you'd like to do it yourself, it only takes a few snips. Here's how.
Sure thing. You have two options. You can use a 1:1 gluten-free flour blend like this one in place of the all-purpose flour. Or you can simply sauté the crabs without dredging in flour first, like this. I slightly prefer them dredged, but they're beyond delicious either way.
It only takes about 20 minutes to put this recipe together, so it's much better to make it right before serving. If you have leftovers, store them tightly sealed in the fridge for a day or two max.
More favorite soft shell crab recipes
- ½ cup (60 grams) flour
- 8 cleaned soft shell crabs
- 2 tablespoons (28 grams) butter
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) safflower oil
- 1 batch spicy mayo (made with all four ingredients)
- 5 ounces (142 grams) salad greens of your choice
- 1 pint (550 grams) mixed cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 English cucumber, sliced
- 1 ripe Haas avocado, sliced
- Sprinkle the flour onto a plate and dredge each crab lightly in the flour.
- Heat butter and oil in a heavy 12-inch skillet over medium heat.
- Add half of the crabs shell-side down in a single layer. Cook for five minutes on the first side, then flip and cook for three minutes on the other side. Repeat with the remaining crabs.
- While the crabs are cooking, prepare the spicy mayo dressing.
- Place a bed of greens and some cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and avocado slices in each of four wide bowls. Lay two crabs over each, and drizzle with spicy sauce. Serve right away.
- I prefer to buy soft shells on the same day I'm going to serve them (or even the day before) and have them cleaned at the fish store.
- For a gluten-free version, you can use a 1:1 GF flour blend like this one in place of the all-purpose flour. Or you can simply sauté the crabs without dredging in flour first, like this. I slightly prefer them dredged, but they're beyond delicious either way.
- For a dairy-free version, simply omit the butter and double the oil.
- It only takes about 20 minutes to put this recipe together, so make it right before serving. If you have leftovers, store them tightly sealed in the fridge for a day or two max.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 513Total Fat: 40.1gCarbohydrates: 14.4gFiber: 4.1gProtein: 25g
Original 2010 text
Live soft shells are here
In our tiny new town there’s a tiny old fish market just up the road. Like most of the shops around here, it’s a real place run by real people—the kind of establishment where they know enough to give you a free lemon when you shell out for a big mess of fish and they sometimes pepper the friendly conversation with a little too much information about family legal affairs. They probably figure that everyone knows already, anyway—and they’re probably right.
A few days ago, the shop window rang alive with the Good Word, scrawled in handwriting on a sheet of looseleaf. “Live soft-shells are here.” Amen, sistah.
Six soft shell crabs, please
It’s early in the season yet, and soft-shells are coming to the Northeast from Florida rather than from the Chesapeake, where they’ll really hit their stride in a few weeks. They’re pricey right now, so when I asked for six, the fishmonger, no doubt trying to save me from personal bankruptcy and not at all to make my cheeks flush red with panic and passion, inquired as to how many people I planned to feed. I think I must have made a little choking sound in my throat, followed perhaps by a few words of unintelligible Spanglish. Then, simply, “I’d like six, please,” and a swift, I’d like to think not-ungraceful, exit.
In other spring news...
Meanwhile, back in that bigger town where, but for the grace of wireless, I rarely go these days, people are getting their freak on for another spring delicacy. At Serious Eats this week, they’re talking about this article by Josh Ozersky at Time.com and pondering why foodies freak out about ramps in the springtime. I, for one, like ramps a sort of unnatural amount. Last year around this time I even made them kid-friendly (or, if you prefer, exploited the hell out of them) by turning them into a dip. And as you probably know by now, you’ll usually find me right on the front lines of the biggest mob freaking out about spring’s first vegetables.