September 30, 2002
Spicy Soft Shelled Crab
posted by Carl

While walking around Reading Terminal Market, I had an idea for dinner. I noticed that a few of the fish stores still had soft shell crabs and I also noticed that another store had packages of various types of chile powder (as in ground up chile peppers, not chili powder). Eager to take advantage of the last remnants of summer, I snatched up four crabs. The crabs were laying out on top of the refrigerated display on their backs like they should be. I blew gently across the crabs just to get a reaction and see how lively they were. A couple of crabs wiggled their legs but most didn't seem to notice. However, when the crabs that I bought were picked up, they flailed their claws and legs violently.

The idea I had for this dish was to spice up the crabs with the chile powder and some cayenne pepper. As a counterpoint to the heat and spice, I was thinking of making a fruity, creamy, slightly sweet yogurt sauce. I started the sauce with some plain yogurt and honey. I added the fruits and gave a taste. "This tastes like something I would have for breakfast," Nadia said. I gave it to her to tinker with and she added salt and some of the chile powder to cover the yogurt flavor.

The crab came out less spicy than I had intended, but no less tasty. It's pretty hard to mess up with soft shell crabs. While Nadia enjoyed the amount of spice, I would have prefered more. If I make this again, I'll try adding more or different spices to the crab seasoning.

Fruity Yogurt Sauce:

1 mango
1 tangerine
1 cup plain yogurt
1 tbs honey
salt and chile powder to taste

Roughly cut the mango into 1/2" bits. Cut the peel off of the tangerine and cut it into sections, flesh only. Catch and reserve the juices of the tangerine as you cut it. Mix the yogurt and honey, add the mango bits, the tangerine sections and the reserved tangerine juice. Add salt and chile pepper to taste.

Spicy Soft Shelled Crab:

4 soft shell crabs, cleaned
1/2 cup flour
2-3 tbs chile powder (I used New Mexico but others will also work)
1/2 tbs cayenne pepper, or more depending on how hot you want it
1 tbs olive oil
3 tbs butter
1/2 cup white wine
juice from half a lemon
bricks or heavy pot, wrapped in aluminum foil

Place a large pan over high heat. Mix the flour, chile powder and cayenne in a wide, shallow bowl. Dredge the crabs in the flour mixture. Put the olive oil plus 1 tbs butter into the pan. When the butter has stopped sizzling, put all four crabs (or as many as will fit) into the pan. Put the foil wrapped bricks or pot on top of the crabs to weight them down. Cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, adding another tablespoon of butter to the pan when you flip the crabs. Remove the crabs from the pan and deglaze with the wine and lemon juice, scraping up any bits that are stuck to the pan. Cook off the alcohol in the wine, about 30 seconds, then finish the sauce with the remaining tablespoon of butter. Drizzle the pan sauce over the crabs and serve with the yogurt sauce.