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BLT Fried Soft Shell Crab Sandwich

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SKILL LEVEL :
Easy but takes some time

When a Fried Soft Shell Crab Sandwich Marries a BLT

BLT fried soft shell crab sandwich | Something New For Dinner It doesn't get much more indulgent than this incredible mashup of a fried soft shell crab sandwich and a BLT. This recipe hits all the extravagant, indulgent notes: crispy, salty, savory and fatty. I use oven-roasted tomatoes for a bright pop of flavor that is strong enough to shine beneath all that crunchy, salty crab and bacon goodness.  

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  If you can make fried chicken, you can fry soft shell crabs.   BLT fried soft shell crab sandwich | Something New For Dinner   Fried soft shell crab is basically a vehicle for crunchiness. Each whole crab is triple dipped. Working one crab at a time dip each first in a mixture of flour, Old Bay seasoning and cayenne pepper.   BLT fried soft shell sandwich | Something New For Dinner Then dip the floured crab in a mixture of egg, mustard and milk. BLT fried soft shell sandwich | Something New For Dinner Finally, dip the crab in a panko, Old Bay and cayenne blend. BLT fried soft shell crab sandwich | Something New for Dinner Go through this three-dip process crab-by-crab. Don't try to batch dip them. Let them rest on a plate, without touching each other while you finish dipping all the crabs. BLT fried soft shell crab sandwich | Something New for Dinner The crabs are fried in hot oil. BLT fried soft shell crab sandwich | Something New for Dinner And then drained on a rack until you are ready to serve them. They are essentially little crab French fries, but crunchier. And yes, you eat the whole crab, soft shell, legs and all.  

BLT Should Be a Verb

As in, did you BLT it? Bacon, lettuce and tomato mash up so  beautifully with so many things. Like my BLT Smashed Potato Salad, or my BLT Lobster Roll. The truth is we can drill down and get to a single ingredient that makes everything it touches decadent. No it is not the tomato and it is not the lettuce. Yes, you knew all along; it is the bacon. No, I don't recommend you eat bacon every day, but when you do, enjoy every minute of your bacon feast. And yes, this BLT fried soft shell crab sandwich is definitely one of those times to allow yourself a big bacon splurge. More bacon-enhanced SNFD recipes include:

What You Need to Know About Soft Shell Crabs

Soft shell crabs are merely regular crabs, in their molting season. Crabs need new shells periodically because they literally outgrow their old hard shells. When a crab's shell becomes too tight, they loosen the old hard shell by excreting enzymes that separate the crab's body from the shell. This allows the crab enough room to grow a new shell underneath the old shell. The new shell starts out very soft and eventually hardens to a new protective armour. When ready to discard the old shell the crab swallows a lot of water to bloat his body to the point where the old shell cracks off, leaving the crab with a nice new protective shell.
  • Weird fact: If a crab loses a leg or two, he or she can also replace missing legs during their molting process. Crabs never need prosthetic devices. Now that is pretty cool!

Soft Shell Crab Season

Soft shell crab season in the U.S. generally refers to Atlantic blue crabs, which appear fresh in the markets from April to September. When the water cools during the winter, crabs do not molt. You may, however, be able to find some U.S. frozen soft shell crab off season.  

Soft Shell Crab Sizes

BLT fried soft shell crab sandwich | Something New for Dinner
A tray of Hotel-sized soft shell crab, draining before they are breaded and fried.
There are five sizes of soft shell crab:
  • Mediums (3.5- 4")
  • Hotels (4 - 4.5")
  • Primes (4.5 - 5")
  • Jumbos (5 -5.5")
  • Whales (over 5.5")
I have not done a taste test between the differences between the sizes. The larger soft shell crabs will have more meat. This recipe was developed using Hotels. On my next go round, I will try and get my hands on some Jumbos or Whales.  

Cleaning Soft Shell Crabs

Soft shell crabs need to be cleaned before you cook them. Your fishmonger can clean them for you, but if you need to do it yourself it is a fairly simple process. You snip off their mouths with some cooking shears and clean the gills to get rid of any sand. It is not as bad as it sounds. Check out this video for the details.  

Where to Buy Soft Shell Crab

You can purchase soft shell from your local fishmonger, or upscale grocery stores like Whole Foods. You can also buy them on Amazon and other online sources.
Note: SNFD is an Amazon affiliate and we may make a small commission when you purchase through our links.
When I began developing this recipe I could not find soft shell crab at my local seafood stores or markets. I did a little googling and found D & D Seafood, a wholesale seafood company in Westminster, California, a 30-minute drive from my home. I called them and sure enough, they had soft shell crab. Not large Whales, but they had Hotels and for a very good price. A kilo (roughly 2.2 pounds) was $18 for 18 frozen, cleaned crabs. These were not U.S. crabs, but farmed soft shell crab from Myanmar. I would have to do a side-by-side taste test to tell you how they compare with U.S. soft shell crab. To do a fair test, I would compare same size crabs prepared the same way. If you have more information on Myanmar crabs I'd love to hear from you. They were delicious in our fried soft shell crab sandwiches.  

Health Benefits of Eating Soft Shell Crab

Soft shell crabs are low calorie (until you fry them!) and rich in calcium and phosphorus, which promotes bone health. They are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which is heart protective.  

Serve It Up DIY Style

BLT fried soft shell crab sandwich | Something New for Dinner I set out big platters of crab, roasted tomatoes, lettuce, brioche buns as well as mayonnaise and sriracha for anyone who wants it. If you decide to try these BLT fried soft shell crab sandwiches, please let us know what you think.      

Fried Soft Shell Crab BLT Sandwich

Prep

Cook

Inactive

Total

Yield 6 - 8

When a fried soft shell crab sandwich marries a BLT this crunchy, salty and indulgent progeny is the delicious result. This decadent sandwich will be the hit of your next gathering. 

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds, cleaned soft shell crab (Hotel size or larger)
  • Oven roasted tomatoes made from 12 plum tomatoes (takes about 3 hours) or 24 Pearl or cocktail tomatoes (takes about 1 1/2 hours)
  • 1 .5 pounds thick cut bacon, fried or oven baked (I prefer to oven bake bacon in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes)
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 2 T Old Bay seasoning, divided
  • 2 t cayenne pepper, divided
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 2 eggs, lightly whisked
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 t mustard
  • 1 cup panko, divided into two portions
  • Approximately 3 cups oil for frying. (I use an olive oil that has a high smoke point, but you can use any high smoke point oil, such as avocado, grapeseed or canola oil)
  • 1 head butter lettuce, cleaned and leaves separated
  • 6 - 8 brioche hamburger buns
  • Mayonnaise, optional
  • Sriracha, optional

Instructions

  1. Defrost the soft shell crab and do not rinse. Place a cookie rack on top of a sheet pan and spread the crabs over the sheet pan. Cover with paper towels and let sit in the fridge for a couple hours to drain and dry. The goal is to have very dry crabs so they fry up nice and crispy.
  2. While the crabs are drying make your roasted tomatoes (this can be done a day or two in advance) and cook your bacon. I like to cook the bacon in a 400 degree oven on a sheet pan for about 10 minutes, or until the bacon is crisp.
  3. When you are ready to cook the crab make the following three bowls to dip the crab in before frying: Bowl 1: 3/4 cup flour + 1 T Old Bay seasoning + 1 t cayenne pepper + kosher salt + fresh ground pepper. Bowl 2: 2 eggs + 1/4 c milk + 1 t mustard. Bowl 3: 1/2 cup panko + 1/2 T Old Bay + 1/2 t cayenne (reserving the extra panko, Old Bay and cayenne for a replacement bowl when the first bowl of panko and seasoning begins to get gummy.)
  4. Dip each crab in bowl number 1, then bowl number 2 and finally bowl number 3. About half way through you will need to replace bowl number 3 with fresh panko and cayenne because it tends to get gummy and the panko stops sticking to the crab. Fresh panko fixes this problem. Lay the thrice dipped crabs on a plate and set aside.
  5. Pull out your largest frying pan. I use a 14" pan. You can also use a large Le Creuset or other deep dish pan that can handle high heat. Pour the olive oil into the pan so that there is 1/2" to 3/4" oil in the bottom of the pan. Heat the oil on high and when it begins to shimmer, test the oil by putting in a pinch of flour. If it sizzles the oil is ready. Working in batches and using tongs, place the crab one by one in the hot pan of oil, making sure not to overcrowd the pan or the crab will steam and be soggy instead of crisp. Cook the Hotel-size crabs about a minute and a half on each side. Larger crabs may take up to 3 - 4 minutes per side. Place a rack over a sheet pan, and when both sides of the crab are cooked transfer them to the rack and allow them to drain until you are ready to serve.
  6. Brush the brioche buns with olive oil and lightly grill or toast the buns under the broiler.
  7. Prepare an assemble-yourself sandwich bar with platters of fried crab, bacon, oven roasted tomatoes, lettuce as well as mayonnaise and sriracha for anyone who wants it. Ring the dinner bell and enjoy!

Notes

  1. Time estimate does not include time to roast tomatoes. These will take about 3 hours if you use plum tomatoes. I like to use smaller cocktail or pearl tomatoes for roasting which only take about 1.5 hours. Get the details here. Prep time is about 5 minutes, then your oven does all the work.
  2. Don't have time to roast the tomatoes? Just use nice thick slices of beefsteak or heirloom tomatoes instead. 

Courses Dinner

Cuisine New American

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