To read Jeremy’s story about the Saint Mary Seafood Market, click here.
A couple of years ago, I began making trips to Saint Mary Seafood near Cypremort Point, Louisiana, to personally pick up the soft shell crabs I was using in the restaurant. There, the crab boats dock and unload their traps. The “busters” are separated and placed in water tables until they molt and are refrigerated. They were still alive and moving when I picked them up, and the flavor quality resulting from that freshness cannot be understated.
To cook them, I tried a rice flour breading method I learned from another chef I had worked for in the past. He used it for a fried calamari that came out so light and crispy it stood up to garlic butter sauce without getting soggy. The method is perfect for frying the soft shell crabs whole.
Here, the natural richness of the crabs is foiled with an acidic and verdant slaw for a nice spring or summer dish. Since the crabs reach peak availability during these months, the recipe has a nice seasonal harmony as well. To try it, make friends with a fishmonger to make sure you get the freshest soft shells available, or better yet, make a trip to the docks yourself, and get them from the source.
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- ½ pound rice flour
- 1 teaspoon iodized salt
- 1 quart ice-cold soda water
- 4 whole soft shell crabs, dressed
- 1 ounce fresh mint leaves, torn
- 1 ounce Thai basil leaves, torn
- 1 ounce flat-leaf parsley, stemmed and made into a chiffonade
- ½ yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1½ tablespoons rice vinegar (You can substitute white vinegar infused with fresh chiles for an extra kick!)
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- For slaw: In a medium bowl, toss together herbs and onion. Add oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper; toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
- For crabs: In a frying pan, pour oil to a depth of 2 inches, and heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 350°.
- In a medium bowl, combine rice flour and salt. In another medium bowl, place 1 quart ice-cold soda water. Place crabs in rice flour, and dredge to coat all surfaces, making sure to coat each leg and claw. Gently shake off excess flour, and dip crabs in soda water. Dredge crabs in rice flour again, and shake off excess flour. Fry crabs for 3 to 4 minutes, carefully turning them halfway through cooking. Remove crabs from oil, and let drain on a paper towel-lined plate. To serve, place two crabs on each serving plate, and top with slaw.