Often considered a delicacy, soft shell crabs are not themselves, a species. In fact, they are mostly blue crabs that have outgrown their shells, and to be able to keep growing, they shed their shells to make new, bigger ones to support their growth. In short, they molt, and it is because of this process we a have a luxurious seasonal treat with a depth of flavor and a weird but delicate texture – the soft shell crab.
As you may have noticed on the restaurant menus as well as in grocery stores, these delicate little creatures are sooo in season. It brings me so much joy (I can not say the same about my other half) to see them pop up everywhere. Do you have a favorite recipe? Is there one particular way you love to prepare and indulge the greatness?
Blue crabs can be found in waters stretching from Nova Scotia, through the Gulf of Mexico, and as far south as Uruguay but have the most active association with Maryland.
The seasonality of Maryland blue crabs is very important and their need for hibernation results in the superior Blue Crabs compared to those from other waters. During the hibernation period, Maryland crabs build up fat store to help them sustain through the dormant period.
I know this one might come to you by surprise, but according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture, Maryland state does not require restaurants to identify the specific source of crab meat that served on their menus, and apparently, only a few of the restaurants use local crabmeat to make their crab cakes.
To ensure you are genuinely getting the MD kind always ask first or visit restaurants that have a True Blue Certification by the state of Maryland. A True Blue Certification is a promotion initiative by MDA to help consumers identify the restaurants that are serving local crab meat. One of the other ways to identify Maryland blue crabs in the sea of others, is the color of the fat, which tends to be dark yellow, also referred to as mustard by Maryland locals.
Now that we have covered some basics, let’s chat a bit about the cooked version, shall we? Full disclosure, the first time I ever tried soft shell crabs was when I first moved to Baltimore, and I could not understand how have I deprived myself of such a treat prior to moving here. I’m a big texture enthusiast (love them cartilages) so I really, really adore this particular shellfish. There are myriad of ways to prepare soft shell crabs and living in MD does give us an advantage in trying all sorts of recipes everywhere we go.
That said, I’d like to share how I prefer my soft shell crabs, (made by me) best with fewest of ingredients possible. I do believe it already has so much flavor to it at its (almost) purest form and this way I also have an opportunity to let the wine enhance the flavors and act as an ingredient during the pairing. So, all I really do (assuming the crabs are all clean and ready to go) is stuff them with crab cakes and throw them on a gas grill for 2-3 mins each side and… Voila! Now, here’s where the wine comes in, in all its glory. For my most recent soft shell crab dinner, I was a party of one as no one in the family can get passed its texture (sad) thus it made it little more special – I got to have them all to myself :). I had two wines on hand I wanted to try pairing it with, and the cool thing was that they both worked great in two completely different ways. It felt like I had cooked the soft shells in two separate but remarkable ways. That said, one did overrule the other just because it just felt right for the lone wolf eating all the crabs.
And here is the Winner:
Weingut Hexamer “Weissherbst” Spatburgunder 2017, Nahe, Germany
This gorgeous white Pinot Noir is one of our most loved wines at the shop. Its profile ranges from the notes of fresh herbs to discreet flavors of white cherry and red berries with a dash of minerality. It worked so well with the slight sweetness and natural peppery spice notes of the crabs not to mention the richness of the stuffed crab cakes and the crispiness of the grilled soft shells. Just Yum! Writing this makes me want to go ahead and spoil myself once again. Like, possibly tonight!