This meal is one of the blessings of living in such close proximity to the Chesapeake Bay. Try to describe the delights of eating a crab - legs, fins, shell and all - to a Mid-Westerner, and they'll look at you like you just escaped from a ward! The poor souls just haven't had the opportunity to know.
And if they're undercooked or impropery done, they can really put you off. But if you follow this simple recipe, you will end up with a Chesapeake favorite that will make you look forward each year to the season's arrival.
First, a couple of tips on getting your crabs. You want them to be as fresh as possible when they go into the pan, so they should still be alive when you buy them. If they aren't making any movements on their own, don't buy them! And try to remember to take a cooler with you and ask them for some ice for the ride home - especially in this summertime heat.
Also, when you place your order, talk to your fishmonger and let him know that you want the shells as thin and soft as possible, and that you'd like to make sure all of the claws are still attached. Of course you do! Everyone does! But if you don't say it, some of those might find their way into your bag!
One last tip: ask them to clean the crabs for you, especially if you've never prepared them before. It's not difficult - you just lift the corner "flaps" and snip away the gills with a pair of scissors, and remove the "face", but they are usually happy to take care of this chore at no additional cost, and your scissors don't end up smelling like fish!
The size of the crabs, and the size of the appetites you're feeding, will dictate the number of crabs per person. Usually three "whales", or four "slabs" (cute names huh?) will do it! When you get them home, it's good to do a final cleaning, and if you're not a fan of the "mustard" just use a finger to loosen and rinse away anything inside that's not white with cold water.
So now we're ready, let's cook!
Here's our ingredient list:
Softshelled Crabs - cleaned and patted dry with paper towel
1 Cup Wondra® Flour - seasoned with 1 tsp Old Bay® and S&P
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tbsp Butter
1 Tbsp Fresh Parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp Capers (the smallest you can find in a jar)
Juice of 1 Lemon
1/2 Cup White Wine
You might want to get your side dishes started, because the whole cooking process for the soft crabs is less than 15 minutes. (I like linguini fini with garlic and oil, and baby green peas on the side, but that's just me!) Also, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. This is just to keep the little guys hot while the "secret sauce" gets made.
If you have a sauté pan large enough to hold all of the crabs at the same time, that's the one to use. Melt the butter in the oil over medium-high heat.
Dredge the crabs in the seasoned flour. Even though they have been dried, there will still be enough natural moisture to allow a light, even coating.
Slide them into the hot oil/butter mixture. Be very careful as they tend to spitter and sputter a bit, which has the potential to pop some of the hot oil out of the pan - so stand back if you need to. (If this is very dramatic, the heat might be set too high - reset a little lower and remove the pan for a minute while the temp adjusts.) You might want to use a spatter screeen, but please do not cover them with a lid - we don't want them to steam!
After about 3-4 minutes, they will start to turn red around the edges. At this point, gently flip them over and sauté them on the other side for another 2 minutes.
Transfer the crabs to an ovenproof platter and pop them in the 350 degree oven for 6 minutes. That's about all the time it will take to make the sauce that you will drizzle over the top.
Using the same pan, start by sautéing the chopped shallot. You can add a little more butter if the pan seems too dry.
After it turns somewhat translucent - about 2 minutes - stir in the wine and allow it to reduce for about a minute.
Now add the lemon juice (careful of the pits!), chopped fresh parsley and the capers. It's really starting to smell good right about now! Let it all work together for about a minute.
The sauce should not be thick, but it shouldn't be runny either, so if it's a little thin, add a touch (< 1/2 tsp) of Wondra flour and maybe a pat of butter to help thicken it up. Drizzle the sauce over the soft crabs and ring the dinner bell!
The great thing about wine is that it is you never stop evolving and discovering new things. For a long time, I would go back and forth between two of my favorite Chardonnays - Cuvaison (Carneros) and La Crema (Russian River).
Both of these wines are exceptional and come from prime Chardonnay regions. They both have great structure and texture, and both are aged sur lies in milder French oak barrels. They have a great fruit character, and both undergo a malolactic fermentation where they pick up a buttery component that I find particularly appealing with crab dishes in general.