Summer is high season for some of our favorite foods, whether it be strawberries, gazpacho, or just chasing down the Mister Softee truck. For the seafood lover, the summer months mean the return of Soft Shell Crabs – and what a glorious return it is. In fact, as soon as May rolls around, our hunt for the best and most inventive soft shell crab dishes begins. So what makes the soft shell crab so special? For starters, unlike nearly every other food commodity, the soft shell crab is one of those foods that can’t be found somewhere in the world year round.
Let’s take a quick crash course in soft shell crabs: Each spring, crabs start to abandon their shells for a new one, providing a narrow window of opportunity (only a few hours actually) to capitalize on the delicious meat inside. And it’s not just the meat. After shedding the old shell, the entire crab becomes a briny, yet sweet delicacy. Sound a bit…strange? Maybe, but one bite of the tender, yet crunchy soft shell crab will have you ignoring any squeamish thoughts you may have about devouring the entire (and we mean entire) crab.
There’s a number of ways to prepare soft shell crab – pan fried, deep fried, sauteed, baked, broiled – with more ways to coat, baste, and dress the tender crustacean. We love it just about any way we find it, but we never turn down a soft shell crab lightly dusted in cornmeal and pan-fried. While you can find soft shell crabs on plenty of menus right now, there’s a notable difference between a soft shell crab and a soft shell crab done right. Too much heat and the skin burns right up, too much batter and you lose all the flavor. The balancing act is an art form, but the good news is that there are plenty of chefs doing it right, right now. We’ve sampled the spectrum and brought you a peek at the best soft shell crab dishes in NYC this season.
We think it’s never too early on in the day to eat soft shell crabs and so does Craftbar, who delivers soft shells to your plate at brunch. Their soft shell crab and egg sandwich arrives on a baguette, topped with bibb lettuce, pickled onion relish, and Old Bay aioli. Of course, there’s the iconic Grand Central Oyster Bar where there’s much more than just oysters and, of course, a killer oyster pan roast. The deep-fried soft shell crabs are also excellent with just the right batter to meat ratio and garlic herb butter for dipping. In Chinatown, it’s no surprise to find expertly baked soft shell crabs on the menu at one of our favorite Chinese joints, Great N.Y. Noodletown, which has been open for over 30 years.
If you’ve never had the tempura soft shell crabs at BLT Fish, you’d be wise to stop in and sample them as soon as you can. Theirs are crazy crunchy, uniquely accented with breakfast radishes and Persian cucumbers to offset the fry of it all. Downtown, the Bridge Cafe dresses up their soft shell sandwiches with sweet peppered bacon, lettuce, and a sun-dried tomato aioli. For straightforward soft shell crabs, slip into Fish in the West Village. This seafood haven secured soft shells early this year, and has been featuring them on their specials menu ever since. Simply pan-fried, the plump soft shells come as is, but don’t forget to add your own dusting of Old Bay seasoning(if you didn’t know, Old Bay is a soft shell crabs best friend).
What are you waiting for? Soft shell crab season will be over before you know it.
Address: 900 Broadway btwn 19th & 20th Sts.
Phone: (212) 461-4300
Grand Central Oyster Bar
Address: 89 E. 42nd St. at Grand Central
Phone: (212) 490-6650
Great NY Noodletown
Address: 28 Bowery at Bayard St.
Phone: (212) 349-0923
Address: 21 W. 17th St. btwn 5th & 6th Aves.
Phone: (212) 691-8888
The Bridge Cafe
Address: 279 Water St. at Dover St.
Phone: (212) 227-3344
Address: 280 Bleecker St. at Jones St.
Phone: (212) 727-2879