Soft shelled crabs are a seasonal delight on the east coast of the US. They're not cheap, but I can only find them mid spring in these parts. They are Maryland blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus), found in Chesapeake Bay and environs - and they, like all crabs, shed their hard shells annually so they can grow up a size during the rest of the year. Upon shedding, their bodies are "protected" by a very thin proto-shell, which will expand a little for their growth, and which will gradually build up calcium and harden into place. When these are soft-shelled, the entirety of the soft shells are readily eaten.
Photo: Forgot to snap a shot of mine before cooking: Maryland blue crab, Photo by YPLeroux, Wikipedia Commons. You can see the blue tint, which goes away upon cooking.
For the soft shelled crabs, I used the flour-less sauté method from Umami Girl, adding some Old Bay seasoning. I figured there was plenty enough grains (or pseudo-grains) in the planned salad already. Besides, I really do prefer these guys un-breaded.
I had the seafood vendor clean the crabs for me. I've done it myself in the past, but I'm feeling a bit, well, lazy these days. (There was one time years ago that I didn't clean them at all, and cooked them anyway. Seemed fine to me. What you or your fishmonger will do is remove some of the internal organs prior to cooking. However, they are not poisonous, it is merely a matter of preference.)
Photo: Belly side up, cooking with Old Bay
The thing about cleaning them, whether your fishmonger or yourself, is that the process kills them. So, you need to cook them within 24 hours! If not sooner.
I used white quinoa - use the color you prefer, or combine them.
Old Bay ingredients: "The seasoning is a mix of celery salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, paprika, and many others. Some of the other spices that may be used are laurel leaves, mustard, salt, cardamom, cloves, and ginger as listed in the original product in the Baltimore Museum of Industry." - Wikipedia. There is a hot and a mild version of this spice blend; I have the hot. I do find it very salty, so I adjust other salts accordingly below. For those who cannot obtain this blend where you live, here is a recipe for a homemade variant (I have not tried hers, but it looks good): TOG's Homemade Old Bay Seasoning Recipe, at This Old Gal. It is also sold on Amazon.
Photo: The quinoa and shrimp are now laid down. I cut each crab in half, and am in the process of laying these down. Best served while the crab is still warm. The quinoa doesn't look white, due to the veggie/mushroom broth I used.
Prep Time: 10 minutes, most of which can happen while the quinoa cooks.
Cook Time: 40 minutes, approximately.
Rest Time: Serve as soon as the crabs are cooked.
Serves: 1 or 2.
Cuisine: Mid-coast USA.
A Seafood Salad with Soft-Shelled Crab, Shrimp, Quinoa, and Fennel
- 1/3 cup quinoa
- 2/3 cups LOW SODIUM broth (veggie, mushroom, or chicken, or plain water)
- 5 teaspoons butter, divided.
- 1 tablespoon oil (I used avocado oil).
- 4 – 6 shrimp, deshelled and de-veined. (You can keep the tail portion of shell on if desired.)
- 2 soft shelled crabs, cleaned (by you or your fishmonger).
- 1 heaping teaspoon of Old Bay seasoning, divided.
- A bed of lettuce, use your favorites. Here, a good handful of leaf lettuce ….
- Fennel bulb, thin-sliced, about 3 ounces.
- 1 handful of pea shoots (watercress would be very good).
- Lemon quarter.
- Fennel fronds, for garnish.
I use a rice cooker for my quinoa. But the principle will be the same if you use a cooktop pot. Add the quinoa, liquid, and butter into the cooker or pot. Follow the directions on your quinoa package for cooking in a pot, or simply set your rice cooker to “Regular/Sushi” and let that go as it will. My package had a ratio of 1:2 volume by volume for quinoa; - so, add 2/3 cups broth or water to 1/3 cup quinoa, and two teaspoons of the butter. Let it cook!
While this is cooking, cook the shrimp. Bring a small pot of water to boil, and add the shrimp. Bring back to a boil, and drain at approximately 1.5 minutes after the boil re-starts. Rinse quickly under cold water and set aside.
Arrange the base of your salad plates: start with the lettuce, Top with fennel, then with the cooked quinoa. Add the shrimp where and as you will.
Cook the crab: Use 3 teaspoons (1 tablespoon) butter and 1 tablespoon oil. Bring the skillet up to temperature - a medium heat, making sure the butter is melted and a splash of water sizzles in the skillet. Add the crabs, top side down first, and sprinkle with about half of the Old Bay seasoning. Sauté for 5 minutes, flip, season with the remaining Old Bay, and cook for another three minutes.
Remove crabs immediately from heat to a small plate - cut them in half from head to "tail", and immediately plate them onto the salad.
Sprinkle with lemon juice and with fennel. Add any remaining pan drippings atop the salad, as well.
Serve immediately for the tastiest results, although leftovers can be refrigerated for a day, and not re-heated.