A couple of weeks back, I pulled out of the freezer what will probably be my last soft-shells of the season. Knowing full well I may not get anymore of these warm weather treasures until next spring, I debated how to prepare them. Should I go for broke and introduce them to some bright new flavors and a bold cooking method? Or, should I play it safe with a tried and true recipe that would not disappoint? Because this batch was frozen, I knew I could approach them a tad more aggressively than I could fresh soft-shell crabs. But I still didn’t want to risk messing them up. So I decided to walk the line. I concocted a safe lemon-butter sauce to pull double-duty as a flavor booster and finishing sauce and then I threw caution to the wind and set those babies on a screaming hot grill.
Grilled soft-shell crabs is not a new concept by any stretch. It’s just that up to this point, I had never eaten or prepared them in this manner. That’s mainly because I love, love, love the dependable, old school preps like pan-sauteing and deep-frying. Well, shame on me for putting this off for so long because these crabs rocked! The outside of the crab, with its sporadic blistering and charred tips, had the crispy goodness of the deep fried version less the full coat of armor (the batter) that can sometimes distract from the crab’s delicate flavor. The sweet meat hidden inside did not disappoint either. It was plump and juicy and full of garlicky, green onion goodness with a hint of smoke. Hands down, these were the best soft-shell crabs the hubby and I had ever eaten. I can’t begin to imagine how spectacular this recipe will be with fresh soft-shell crabs!
Before you start cranking up your grill, let me point out one very important part of the recipe–the cooking time. The time it takes to grill soft-shell crabs can vary greatly. Much depends on the size of the crabs and the type of heat you’re using. My recipe includes the timeframe that worked for me with large crabs on a gas grill that’s way past its prime (meaning the heat is inconsistent at best). Simply cook the crabs until they’re done. The best way to determine doneness is with your eyes, nose and fingers. A perfectly cooked grilled soft-shell crab will be bright orangish-red in color, smell sweetly charred (you’ll know it when you smell it) and be firm to touch.
Grilled Soft-Shell Crabs Recipe
8 large soft-shell crabs
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped green onions
4 garlic cloves, minced
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons Creole seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
Canola oil, for grill
Clean the crabs by removing the gills (the spongy “dead man’s fingers” located under the tips of either side of the top shell) and cutting off the eyes, mouthparts and belly apron with scissors. Squeeze out the small sac located directly behind the mouth. Rinse and pat dry. Season the crabs inside and out with salt and pepper and place on a rimmed baking sheet; set aside. Combine butter and oil in a small skillet over medium heat. When butter is melted, add green onions and garlic; cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lemon zest and juice, Creole seasoning and salt and pepper. Pour half the sauce into a bowl and use that half to liberally coat the crabs making sure to flavor the meat under the top shell. Reserve remaining sauce. Prepare grill for direct cooking over high heat. Brush grate with canola oil. Place crabs on grill shell side down and cook, turning occasionally, until crabs are bright orange/red in color, firm to touch and charred in spots, about 8-12 minutes total. Transfer to a serving dish and top with reserved sauce. For appetizer servings, cut each crab in half. Serve warm. Makes 8 appetizer or 4 entree servings.