Soft-Shell Crabs

Photo: Carina Salvi

Not a separate species, as some landlubbers think, soft-shell crabs, a.k.a. peelers, are blue crabs that have shed their hard shells. Simply pan-fried in butter or bacon fat, they’re hard to beat. There is some slightly nasty business involved in cleaning them, but your neighborhood fishmonger can take care of that. Their distinctive texture plays especially well against a soft Chinese steamed bun, as in this recipe from Momofuku Noodle Bar.

Momofuku Noodle Bar’s Soft-Shell-Crab Buns
1 small-medium Kirby cucumber
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon sugar mixed together
4 slices bacon
3 “jumbo” soft-shell crabs, cleaned
Salt and pepper to taste
6 Chinese steamed buns*
Hoisin sauce
1 scallion, thinly sliced

Illustrations by John Burgoyne.

(1) Thinly slice cucumber. In shallow bowl, mix cucumber slices with the salt and sugar until lightly coated. Let stand for about two hours to “sweat” them, then drain off liquid. For the crabs: Heat large sauté pan over high flame. Add bacon and render a couple tablespoons of fat. Remove bacon, season crabs with salt and pepper, and
(2) place them upside down in pan, cooking each side for about three minutes. Meanwhile, steam six buns in large pan according to the package’s instructions. To assemble buns: Remove crabs from pan, and slice each one in half. Spread about a tablespoon of hoisin sauce on the inside of each bun. Layer one side of bun with a few cucumber slices. Place a half crab on top of cucumbers, and sprinkle with scallions.
(3) Fold the bun in half like a taco. Makes six crab buns.

*Momofuku’s steamed-bun source is a closely guarded secret, but the frozen “Steam Pita Bread” at May May (35 Pell St., nr. Mott St.), is identical, and the thicker mantou-style bun shown in the above illustration will also do.

Soft-Shell Crabs