Ahh, the season is again upon us - having begun early in many places due to the warm winter. Such a glorious little treat. Ripe with attached memories for me, which makes them even more enjoyable.
Crabs were always part of summer's bounty. Having grown up in the 70s on one of NJ's thin barrier islands, crabs represented long days with doting grandparents. We'd sit plucking them from the Bay 'til there were more than the four of us could possibly eat. Such an easy thing to do, pulling up a hard shell blue claw and scooping it with the net - such fantastic fun for a little boy.
Then, on those certain occasions, often around the time of the full moon, you'd see one sort of floating, gently swimming by. As fast as the net could get near the water, you'd swoop. Sometimes, you were rewarded with a freshly molted crab, a soft shell. To the mind of a seven year old kid, it was an almost unthinkable treat, considering the bucket of it's brethren that Grandma would later steam, you could just bite right into this fella.
Now, the gentle, old lady had one basic way for frying up her crabs, quite similar to what she did with the fluke we'd catch on other days. The cleaned crab went into flour, an egg dredge, then seasoned breadcrumbs. They were pan fried in mostly Crisco oil with a decent amount of butter. Occasionally, the crabs were on a plate for a dinner, but usually they were the stuff of lunchtime sandwiches. They would rest on toasted, country white bread, above a smear of tartar and a leaf or two of lettuce. The top got a slice of a tomato from her garden after a squeeze of lemon. Glorious, indeed.
Today, my technique involves less coating. Typically, I just dredge the crab in seasoned flour and pan fry quickly in peanut oil. Simple art. A sandwich is more likely to involve fancier bread, but I've still got a soft spot for the fresh tomato and tartar.
So, I can't help but ask, how do you soft shell? Any other lovers?
Edit: Just noticed Bitman's got a nod to them today: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/06/mag... I'll agree, grilling can be a good change of pace.