RECIPE: Panfried Soft-Shell Crab

I’m a New Englander, so given the choice between steamed lobster or crab, lobster wins every time. But if you take that crab, fry it up, serve it with a smoky dip, and tell me I can eat the whole thing… lobster might have some competition.


Soft-shell crab, named for – you guessed it – their soft shells, is the familiar variety of blue crab from the Mid-Atlantic. Throughout June the blue crab molt their hard shells leaving behind a paper-thin shell. The season for soft-shells is short and the demand is high, so if you can find any at your fish market, snatch them up and give this recipe a try.

I have to confess, this was my first time cooking soft-shells. I’ve tried them and enjoyed them, so when I started seeing them on menus and in the New York Times, I decided I had to give it a shot. It turns out that they are as easy to prepare as they are delicious. But proceed with caution because they have been known to cause crab-naps*.

Serves 2 as an Entree; Serves 4 as an Appetizer

As with any seafood, the key with soft-shell crab is buying it fresh, live if possible, from a reputable source. I love Market Basket as much as the next penny-pincher, but this isn’t an ingredient to save on. Go to your local fish market and pay a reasonable price for a quality product. Before cooking, the crabs need to be cleaned. The fishmonger at New Deal Fish Market did this for me, but if you’re brazen enough to do this on your own, the New York Times published a how-to guide here.


Soft-Shell Crab

  • 4 soft shell crabs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided

Smoky Dip

  • ½ cup plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon chili powder
  • Salt & Pepper

The dip is optional, but the smoky flavor emphasizes the crab seasoning so it works well on the side. It’s best to make this before cooking the crab so it’s ready to go when the crab is hot off the stove. Mix yogurt, olive oil, mayonnaise, paprika and chili power together in a medium bowl and season with salt and pepper. Store the dip in the refrigerator until ready to use.

In a shallow bowl, mix together the flour, cumin, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper. Dredge both sides of the crabs in the mixture and shake off any extra flour.


Heat a heavy-bottom skillet over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Add two tablespoons of butter to the skillet. When the butter-foam subsides, add two crabs, top-shell down. The crabs are going to “pop” while they cook, so I recommend putting a splatter guard over the pan. If, like us, you don’t have an actual splatter guard, you can use an inverted colander or mesh strainer – just make sure it isn’t made of plastic!

Cook the crabs for 3 minutes on each side, until they’re cooked through and golden-brown. Repeat the cooking process for the remaining two crabs. You may need to lower the heat to make sure the second batch doesn’t burn. Serve immediately.


If you’re making these as an appetizer, you should factor about one crab per person. They can be served with a wedge of lemon and smoky dip on the side. To turn them into an entree, assume two crabs per person. Serve them on greens dressed with lemon juice, olive oil and parmesan cheese.

Crab Plate
*Crab-Nap (krab-nap) n. – A brief but intense nap brought on by eating rich and delicious crab innards.


4 thoughts on “RECIPE: Panfried Soft-Shell Crab

  1. I’m not a crab person (actually no seafood at all, and plus the shells scare me!) but this is one of my husband’s favorites! I bet living in MA gives you so much opportunity to amazing seafood like this! As much as crab scares me, I can totally tell they’re worthy of a crab-nap! Anything pan-fried can’t be half bad!!!

  2. I had my first full soft shelled crab last night at a local restaurant. It was good, but it is a bit weird knowing you are eating a whole crab with the insides and shell. Last night I was wondering if they clean the crabs so it’s good to know they do! This recipe has great seasoning and the dip sounds cool too. You make it look easy so thanks!!!

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