Restaurants start fielding the inquiries in earnest sometime in March: “Y’all have soft-shells?” Once a rite of spring reserved for coastal dwellers, molting Atlantic blue crabs now inspire the kind of anticipation among the dining public usually reserved for the next Game of Thrones. And while we’re largely at the mercy of nature to determine when the crustaceans will shed their shells—once the water warms to 72 degrees for several days—we needn’t depend on restaurant kitchens to keep us in softies all spring.
Cooking them at home is easy. It’s cleaning the critters—which involves snipping off the face, effectively killing the crab—that stops many of us in our squeamish tracks. You could ask your fishmonger to do the dirty work, but Clayton Rollison, chef-owner of Lucky Rooster Kitchen + Bar in Hilton Head, South Carolina, who grew up on the island, looks at it as an opportunity to get closer to the source of our food. (He suggests watching a few YouTube videos to get the hang of it.)
It’s crucial that the crabs are alive when you buy them, he says. Touch them and if they move, albeit sluggishly, you’re good—even if they die on the car ride home.
As a kid, Rollison ate soft shells between two pieces of squishy white bread; at Lucky Rooster he serves them over a pile of a kilt greens. It’s an homage to spring across two cultures of the South, he says. “A dish of Appalachia and the Gullah-Geechee.”
- by Isabelle Adler
- by Erin Byers Murray
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