When it comes to fresh it is hard to beat ingredients that are alive 'till just before cooking. Along with clams and lobster, soft shell crabs are our favorite foods you can purchase live. While live usually does equate to fresh, the key to choosing the very best specimens are to look for the most active candidates. That means the lobster moving away from your hand in the tank, clams which shut their shells and soft shell crabs that wiggle about in their seaweed beds with the breeze.

Soft shell crabs are generally considered a delicacy and often find their way onto higher priced plates at finer restaurants. A more economical soft shell experience can be had at Chinese restaurants (favorites include Oriental Garden, Fuleen Seafood and NY Noodletown) or as a sandwich for lunch at a place like Savoy.

The ultimate budget way to enjoy these late spring treats is to head down to Chinatown where you can pick them up for as little as $6 per half dozen. A wiser choice is to buck up and buy the bigger sizes, try the “whales” for $12 a half dozen from Tan My My on the corner of Chrystie and Grand street. Each barely able to fit on a salad plate, 2 of them for $4 can easily be the foundation hearty main course.

There are very few foods that need as little effort or embellishment as the soft shell crab – you eat the entire creature and its soft shell (especially the legs) accumulate all the delicious and delicate crab juices you need to flavor each bite.

Soft Shell Crab preparation

- Buy just enough crabs to cook that day
- Store crabs in a cold part of the refrigerator, will lull them to sleep and make the next few step easier.
- Cut ½ to ¾ inch slit directly between the eyes to kill the crab.
- Flip over and remove sacs/lungs under body of each side of the underbelly, and slice off the folded triangle flap that is at the bottom middle.
- Optionally you may also slice off the eyes and rinse the crabs.

Your crabs are now ready to be cooked.

Now the choice is clean or dirty, and your kitchen will not be happy if you choose dirty.

Clean Cooking: the grill outside

1) Brush with oil, then salt and pepper crabs.
2) Grill over a medium flame, turning occasionally until the shell is red and the flesh opaque all the way through – about 4 minutes per side for the whales.
3) Serve with lemon or tartar sauce

Dirty Cooking: pan-fried, use a splatter guard if possible as all that delicious crab juice gets very jumpy in the heat

1) Flour the crabs shaking off the excess, bread the crabs using an egg wash and panko crumbs, or coat them in a tempura batter.
2) Fry in ¼ inch of medium hot oil until crisp and cooked all the way through – about 5 to 7 minutes total.
3) Serve with lemon or tartar sauce.