Late spring heralds the season for soft-shelled crabs, blue crabs that have shed their hard shells. In the brief period before their new shells begin to harden, they're tender enough that the whole crab is edible, shell and all. They're prized for their sweet flavor and juicy texture, and Chowhounds love to eat them with a simple sauce or in sandwiches.
Soft-shell crabs should be bought live, cleaned no more than a day before cooking, and kept cold. It's best to avoid packaged, precleaned crabs because it's hard to know how fresh they are, Bacardi1 says; you can clean them yourself (here's a video demonstration) or have your fishmonger do it.
To pan-fry them, dredge them in seasoned flour and cook them for a few minutes per side. Weighting them with something heavy while they cook, such as a cast-iron pan, forces out a lot of water, sbp says. Try them with a pan sauce of lemon, butter, and parsley or white wine and garlic. Or for a crunchy exterior, dredge them first in flour, then in beaten egg, and finally in panko breadcrumbs before pan-frying.
They can also be grilled for a couple of minutes per side. MGZ marinates them in a combination of soy sauce, garlic, and habanero chile for half an hour before grilling, while treb bastes grilled crabs with lime juice and thyme.