Pan Fried Soft Shelled Crabs

Pan Fried Soft Shell Crab

I love soft shell crabs…If they’re done right! It’s very easy to mess up this relatively simple dish, but when they’re done properly they are just fabulous! I’ve had my share of bad and good fried crabs. In fact in one case over on the Eastern Shore I had a fried soft shell crab that was so bad I couldn’t even finish eating it because it was just that horrible. Most of the other “bad” ones were at least edible, but in that instance it wasn’t the case.

For several years I’ve wanted to play around with soft shell crabs, but never found any that were live so I skipped the experience. I actually found some live, soft shelled crabs late last month and I was thrilled! I bought a couple, knowing I was the only one that would eat them. Jamison doesn’t like seafood (or much of anything for that fact) and Alexis won’t eat something that resembles the animal it came from. I have to agree with her on that point for the most part, given I can’t stand to see a fish served that still has a head. I have this thing about my food staring back at me, but that is neither here nor there at the moment.


I bought a couple of live soft shelled crabs and the fish monger actually cleaned them for me. If you buy them from somewhere that you can have them cleaned for you I highly recommend you take that route. It isn’t hard to do, but I think it’s easier to just have it done for you. If you’d rather do it yourself Cooking Light has a very nice little tutorial on how to clean a soft shell crab that should set you in the right direction.

In my opinion there are two main ways to go wrong with soft shelled crabs: 1)You don’t season them properly or 2)They are either under or over fried. I remember once hearing Emeril quip that he wasn’t sure where we got our beef, but where he got his it didn’t come seasoned. This is true of most anything, including crabs. You have to season them properly for them to taste good!

I’ve been in Maryland now for 11 years and in that time I’ve steadily become more and more of a Maryland girl and in my mind crabs need Old Bay! This goes for soft shell crabs when you’re frying them. Have you ever heard of a Maryland crab that didn’t have a little Old Bay Seasoning thrown in for good measure? Crab soup, crab dip, crab cakes, more likely than not, if these dishes originated in Maryland you’re going to find Old Bay in the components of the dish. Old Bay is as big a part of Maryland as the crab or oyster themselves. Some people don’t care for Old Bay, but I’m a BIG fan!

As for frying it isn’t hard, but it’s essential that you do it right. I love sushi, but when it comes to crabs I want them cooked properly all the way done. This isn’t sushi grade salmon or tuna we’re talking about here. On the flip side if you cook them too long you’re going to end up with a hard, rubbery bit of nothing that is extremely hard to eat and doesn’t taste like much to boot. You want to look for a lightly browned outside that when touched still has a little bit of give to it over all. It takes roughly 2-3 minutes on the 1st side you fry and then 1-2 on the second. It’s quick, but don’t make it too quick!

Soft shelled crabs are a tradition around here. Everyone has their own spin on this little dish and this is mine. Eat them straight up, or make a sandwich with some lettuce, tomato and tartar sauce, but either way you’re in for a treat!

What You’ll Need:
Extra virgin olive oil
Soft shelled crabs, cleaned
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup of unbleached all purpose flour
1-2 tablespoons of Old Bay Seasoning (Note: Use less if spicy isn’t your thing.)
Sea salt
Finely ground black pepper

In a large skillet over medium heat heat olive oil until hot.

While oil is heating get started on your crabs.

Beat two eggs together in a dish and set aside.

Mix together flour and Old Bary seasoning on a plate. Set aside.

If your crabs aren’t cleaned (see the link above) you want to do that first:

Pan Fried Soft Shell Crab: Soft Shell Crab, Cleaned and Ready to Cook

Sprinkle cleaned crab with sea salt and black pepper and then dip in to beaten egg:

Pan Fried Soft Shell Crab: Egg Bath

Take crab from the egg mixture and dip one side into the flour mixture:

Pan Fried Soft Shell Crab: Covering the Bottom Side

Flip crab over and place the other side in the flour mixture:

Pan Fried Soft Shell Crab: Covering the Other Side

Make sure both sides are covered well by picking it up and inspecting both sides:

Pan Fried Soft Shell Crab: Coated with Flour

Place on a plate and repeat until you’ve coated all of your crabs:

Pan Fried Soft Shell Crab: Ready to Fry

When oil is hot place crab bottom side down and fry for 2-3 minutes:

Pan Fried Soft Shell Crab: Frying the Bottoms

Once bottoms are lightly browned flip the crab over and fry the other side for 1-2 minutes:

Pan Fried Soft Shell Crab: Frying the Tops

Fry until both sides are lightly browned:

Pan Fried Soft Shell Crab

Just as when you steam crabs they’ll turn red and you can see it through the cooked “batter” when they’re done. Remove from the oil and let drain on a paper towel lined plate for a couple of minutes and then serve.

Notes: You can do this for shrimp too. I like to serve these with seared scallops along the side.

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