Soft-Shell Crab: In Season and Ready for Eatin'
76 Queen Street
Charleston, SC 29401
- The Grocery
4 Cannon Street
Charleston, SC 29403
- Xiao Bao Biscuit
224 Rutledge Avenue
Charleston, SC 29403
- The Lot
1977 Maybank Highway
Charleston, SC 29412
At Husk, Chef Travis Grimes breads his crab in a traditional tempura style batter lightly seasoned with fennel pollen. He serves it with raw milk ricotta for textural contrast and a shaved asparagus salad. Both the fennel and asparagus share seasons with the crab and complement the delicate flavor of the crab without overwhelming it.
Fig Chef Jason Stanhope serves brown butter-basted soft shell crabs with asparagus, green garlic, and Benton’s bacon vinaigrette. Brown butter is a traditional pairing with soft-shell crab that adds depth and fat to the lean protein. Green garlic adds a pungent crunch and cuts through the smoky bacon vinaigrette.
Kevin Johnson of The Grocery also pan roasts his soft shell crab and accompanies it with wood roasted asparagus, new potatoes, and Greek yoghurt vinaigrette. The play here is complementing flavors with texture and acid from the vinaigrette. The potatoes add richness, and the charred asparagus complements the crab while adding a charred element.
Chef Joey Ryan of Xiao Bao Biscuit puts an Asian spin on his crab dish. He deep-fries the crab and serves it with a cool and refreshing green papaya salad and fresh cilantro. Slightly ahead of season, papayas add a slight bitter element that rounds the sweetness of the crab. The cilantro’s aromatic punch helps cut through the rich fried coating.
Rising Star Chef Geoff Rhyne of The Ordinary uses polenta as a creamy element and punches through the rich qualities of the dish with ramps and shaved radishes. A lemon wedge brings in acid that cuts through the rest of the dish and opens the fresh flavors.
Chef Alex Lira of The Lot rocks the East Coast standard of Old Bay and seafood with his pan fried crab, mustard greens, fingerling potatoes, oyster mushrooms, asparagus, and Old Bay aïoli. Mustard, a traditional condiment for soft shell crab is replaced with spicy mustard greens. Creamy fingerling potatoes complement the crab’s texture and the strong flavors are rounded by the spiced aïoli.
At the first full moon each May, blue crabs molt their hard exoskeleton, yielding delicious soft shell crabs that are now a prime catch! On a recent trip to Charleston, South Carolina, we had the chance to indulge on some of the season’s earliest catch from great Charleston chefs. Only days from molting, these crabs were succulent, tender, and bursting with fresh ocean flavor—and boasting a 100 percent yield, no less.
Soft-shell crabs are at their peak for a short time. Immediately after molting, the outer shell begins to harden. The flesh is sweet and delicate, so bold flavor pairings can overwhelm the seasonal delicacy. As for adding textural contrast, soft-shell crabs lend well to deep frying, pan frying, grilling, roasting or sautéing.