This post may contain affiliate links. Learn more.

Soft shell crabs briefly cooked in a little bit of butter and oil look unreasonably fancy for a quick lunch or easy weeknight dinner. But serve these honorable creatures with a squeeze of lemon, and with the very first bite, the whole endeavor might just start to look like the most reasonable thing you’ve ever seen.

simple soft shell crab recipe sautéed without flour, in a frying pan
Want to save this recipe?
Enter your email below and I’ll send it to your inbox. Plus get great new recipes every week!
Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Why we love this recipe

Every year, soft shell season is over in a flash. The fleeting nature of this moment makes something special into something truly spectacular. That’s why we love to prepare soft shells simply, letting their natural vibes shine through. They’re:

  • Crisp outside, tender and dreamy inside
  • Naturally savory
  • Low-cal, low-carb, and gluten-free
  • Simple and simply perfect

If you’ve landed here searching for baked or broiled soft shell crabs, try them sautéed instead. They crisp up beautifully when you sauté them, really leaning into their reputation as “the gourmet potato chips of the seafood world.”

I first published this recipe here in 2015. Post and recipe have been updated for clarity.

What you’ll need

Here’s a glance at the short list of ingredients you’ll need to make this recipe.

ingredients in bowls
  • Soft shell crabs are the same little folks you normally crack out of their hard shells. They’re a figment of a moment in time, right after they’ve grown out of their old shells and before their new ones harden. You can eat the whole darn thing (once cleaned), and it’s just the absolute best. I prefer to have the fishmonger clean them for me. Here’s how to do it on your own.
  • With so few ingredients, use the best ones you can get your hands on. I use a cultured, salted, grass fed butter. This sounds fancy but doesn’t have to be. Kerrygold, for example, is sold at many supermarkets. If you need to avoid butter for any reason, you can double the oil.
  • Safflower oil is my high-smoke-point, neutral-tasting vegetable oil of choice. You can substitute another oil that has similar properties, such as canola, sunflower, peanut, corn, or vegetable oil blend. If you prefer, you can use olive oil or another oil that suits your diet.

How to make it

Here’s what you’ll do to make a beautifully simple batch of sautéed soft shells. You can see the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get all the details in the recipe card below.

step by step
  1. Add the oil and the butter to the pan.
  2. Give it a good swirl to coat the bottom evenly.
  3. When the butter is melted, add the crabs shell-side down (belly up). Do your best to arrange the legs and claws so that they make contact with the pan, though it won’t be perfect. Cook for five minutes.
  4. Flip and cook about three minutes on the other side. Be a little careful at the end — they can spatter a bit as they cook inside. Serve right away.
simple soft shell crab recipe sautéed without flour, in a dutch oven

Expert tips and FAQs

What are soft shell crabs?

Soft shells 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.

In other words, what you see here is some crabs going through a phase where they’re more vulnerable than usual.

If only humans could identify with that at all.

Can I make this recipe in advance? What about leftovers?

This recipe takes a mere few minutes to make, and the crabs will be at their best shortly after cooking. So I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to make this recipe in advance.

That said, leftovers will keep well in an airtight container in the fridge for three to four days. Reheat on the stovetop or wrapped in foil in the oven, or much on them cold. No judgment.

More favorite ways to devour them

simple soft shell crab recipe sautéed without flour, in a frying pan

Hungry for more?

Subscribe to Umami Girl’s email updates, and follow along on Instagram.

simple soft shell crab recipe sautéed without flour, in a frying pan
4.59 from 77 votes

Simple Soft Shell Crabs (Sautéed without Flour)

By Carolyn Gratzer Cope
Soft shell crabs briefly cooked in a little bit of butter and oil look unreasonably fancy for a quick lunch or easy dinner. But serve two of these honorable creatures o
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Total: 15 minutes
Want to save this recipe?
Enter your email and I’ll send it to your inbox. Plus get great new recipes every week!
Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Ingredients 

  • 4 cleaned soft shell crabs
  • 1 tablespoon butter oil
  • 1 tablespoon safflower oil

Instructions 

  • In a heavy, wide skillet, heat the butter and oil over medium-high heat until butter is melted.
  • Place the crabs into the pan in a single layer, shell sides down. Cook undisturbed for about five minutes, until the underside is crispy and red with a few browned spots
  • Flip crabs and cook on the other side until cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes more. Serve right away.

Notes

  1. Soft shell crabs are the same little folks you normally crack out of their hard shells. They’re a figment of a moment in time, right after they’ve grown out of their old shells and before their new ones harden. You can eat the whole darn thing (once cleaned), and it’s just the absolute best. I prefer to have the fishmonger clean them for me. Here’s how to do it on your own.
  2. With so few ingredients, use the best ones you can get your hands on. I use a cultured, salted, grass fed butter. This sounds fancy but doesn’t have to be. Kerrygold, for example, is sold at many supermarkets. If you need to avoid butter for any reason, you can double the oil.
  3. Safflower oil is my high-smoke-point, neutral-tasting vegetable oil of choice. You can substitute another oil that has similar properties, such as canola, sunflower, peanut, corn, or vegetable oil blend. If you prefer, you can use olive oil or another oil that suits your diet.
  4. This recipe takes a mere few minutes to make, and the crabs will be at their best shortly after cooking. So I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to make this recipe in advance.
  5. That said, leftovers will keep well in an airtight container in the fridge for three to four days. Reheat on the stovetop or wrapped in foil in the oven, or much on them cold. No judgment.
I first published this recipe here in 2015. Post and recipe have been updated for clarity.

Nutrition

Calories: 250kcal, Protein: 40g, Fat: 8g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Fish + Shellfish
Cuisine: American
Tried this recipe?Mention @umamigirl or tag #umamigirl!

Hungry for more?

Subscribe to Umami Girl’s email updates, and follow along on Instagram.

Hungry for More?
Subscribe to Umami Girl's email updates, and follow along on Instagram.
Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

More Recipes

Carolyn Gratzer Cope Bio Photo

About Carolyn Gratzer Cope

Hi there, I'm Carolyn Gratzer Cope, founder and publisher of Umami Girl. Join me in savoring life, one recipe at a time. I'm a professional recipe developer with training from the French Culinary Institute (now ICE) and a lifetime of studying, appreciating, and sharing food.

4.59 from 77 votes (76 ratings without comment)

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating




5 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Have been doing this way since the 60’s and it is the best although I have used just butter and a pinch of garlic and/or Old Bay and grill them. In 1961 I was buying them live for $1.25 a dozen packed in seaweed @ Handy’s in Crisfield, Maryland for the “hotels”.

  2. Thank you for this recipe! Amazing. I squeezed a lemon at the end and used grass fed lard rather than the olive oil. It was perfect! I didn’t realize it could be this easy!

  3. I wish soft shell crab season lasted all year long! These look absolutely delicious! Hand me a bibb and a big ole bowl so I can face plant into this YUM! Love it! Cheers. 😉

    1. Thanks, Cheyanne. Me too! I make due with spider rolls from the sushi place during the rest of the year, which is no great hardship, but it’s not the same. 🙂