Soft-shell crabs are crabs which have recently molted their old hard exoskeleton, leaving them with a paper-thin shell that is more like a skin. They are primarily a spring treat and can be found at seafood counters from May through June. Chef Laurent Tourondel shared his simple and classic Asian method of frying and seasoning the spring crabs. The recipe is fairly easy—here’s an easier one still if this one is daunting—and the result is incredibly ﬂavorful.
- 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
- 3 tablespoons orange juice, freshly squeezed
- 1 tablespoon sambal oelek, (Asian chili-garlic paste)
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon lime juice, freshly squeezed
- 1 Orange, zested
- vegetable oil, for frying
- 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup rice flour
- 12 soft-shell crabs, cleaned
- 1 1/2 cups pea shoots
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
For the Dressing:
Whisk the hoisin sauce, orange juice, sambal oelek, ﬁsh sauce, lime juice, and orange zest in a medium bowl to blend and set aside.
For the Crabs:
- Fill a deep heavy pot or deep fryer with 4 inches of vegetable oil and heat to 375˚F.
- Whisk the coconut milk and egg in a small bowl to blend. Scatter the rice ﬂour on a plate.
- Dip 1 crab into the egg mixture to coat it completely. Remove the crab from the egg mixture and allow any excess egg mixture to drip off. Transfer the crab to the rice ﬂour and coat evenly on all sides.
- Shake the crab gently to remove any excess ﬂour. Continue the process with the remaining crabs.
- Working in batches, fry the crabs until golden and crispy, about 2 minutes on each side.
- Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels and allow the excess oil to drain.
To assemble and serve:
- Place the fried crabs in a large mixing bowl. Spoon the dressing over the crabs and toss gently to coat.
- Toss the pea shoots in a large bowl with the olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Scatter the pea shoots over a large platter. Arrange the fried crabs over the pea shoots and serve immediately.
Cleaning soft-shell crabs is not for the faint of heart, so if possible, ask your ﬁshmonger to clean them for you. Using kitchen shears, snip off the eyes of the crab. Turn the crab over and remove the gills or lungs from the underside of the crab and any soft tissue from the tail end.
Keep the crabs on ice until ready to cook. Once cleaned the crabs need to be cooked soon thereafter.
Serve this dish with a slightly off-dry Riesling that offers ﬂavors of apricots, ripe peaches, and a touch of white ﬂowers, such as Riesling, “Semi and Dry,” Heron Hill, 2006, Finger Lakes, New York.