A soft shell legacy

Old boyfriends leave legacies, some better than others. Exes have, in no particular order, improved my computer skills, introduced me to camping, and tried (unsuccessfully) to turn me into a runner. One of the better gifts of the past: grilled soft shell crab with Thai spices, a specialty of former boyfriend Joe Number One. Number One is not to be confused with Joe Number Two, whose legacy included thrift store t-shirts and Indie music.

Huddled over a Smokey Joe Weber Grill on the back porch of my Boston apartment many years ago, Joe Number One introduced a new approach to the soft shell crab. (Never mind that we weren't supposed to be grilling anything on the rickety wooden porch of a triple decker; I kept a large bucket of water and a fire extinguisher at the ready). I was accustomed to sauteed soft shells, usually served with a pan sauce in a fancy restaurant or squished between two buttery rolls slathered with mayo. Joe Number One's crabs were a revelation. The flavors were bright and clean, accented with lemongrass and cilantro. When I learned that soft shell crabs would be part of my Core Sound Seafood share last week, I knew exactly what I'd do with them.

Joe Number One is long gone — he's married, has a daughter, and calls California home — but I think good thoughts and give him a big thumbs up when soft shells come into season. They aren't in season this time of year, but were included in last week's CSF share due to rough fishing conditions.

My frozen soft shells were already processed, but if you purchase live crabs in the spring, you may have to clean them yourself. Cut off the eyes and mouth with a pair of kitchen scissors or paring knife, then lift the pointy shell ends and remove the gills. Lastly, flip the crab over and remove the remove the apron, a flap on the underside. This isn't as difficult (or ghastly) as it sounds, though I find it's easier if I thank the crabs for their sacrifice before beginning.

Marinate the crabs for 30 minutes to 1 hour before grilling. I enjoyed mine with a pile of jasmine rice and sauteed bok choy — they are best with simple sides. And when you bite into your beautifully seasoned soft shell crab, try to recall a few (positive) things your ex(es) left you.

Grilled Soft Shell Crabs with Thai Spices
Makes marinade enough for 3-4 soft shell crabs

2 stalks lemongrass, outer leaves removed, minced
2 serrano chiles, minced
6 scallions, white and light green parts, minced
juice of 1 lime
pinch sugar
1 garlic clove, minced
4 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced
kosher salt

Preheat the grill.

Combine the first seven ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Pour over cleaned soft shells and allow to marinate for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with kosher salt and grill over a medium flame, turning once. The crabs will turn red as they cook, and should be done in about 5 minutes. Garnish with cilantro and serve.


  1. Yummie, I love soft shell crab, but never cooked it before, like the Thai spice in it...must taste SO good :-)

  2. Juliana - Grilled or sauteed, soft shells are easy to prepare. I hope you'll try this when they're in season next year.

  3. Wow - Thank you Joe Number 1 and thank you Lynn for passing it on to us,

  4. OysterCulture - Delicious proof that old boyfriends are good for something.

  5. This was totally worth dating anyone! I love soft shell crabs -- Delish.