When the fleeting season for soft shell crabs returns to the Southeast, chefs and customers swing into action. At Charleston‘s wildly popular Vietnamese spot, Pink Bellies, the double-fried soft shell sandwich is a seasonal special that sells out nightly. Chef Thai Phi turns the ridiculously crispy, whole crab into the base for the soft shell “bun mi” sandwich.
Served on a squishy Hawaiian roll, the handheld bears semblance to the simple soft shell sandwiches found throughout the Lowcountry during the spring. However, the sandwich pulls inspiration from Vietnamese báhn mì with tangy homemade pickles and richly flavored shrimp pâté spread between the layers of bread.
2 milk buns or any soft brioche such as King’s Hawaiian Bun
Shrimp Pâté (recipe follows)
Tartar Sauce (recipe follows)
B&B Pickles (recipe follows)
2 double-fried soft shell crabs
½ bunch chopped fresh dill
1 pound cooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ cup butter, melted
¼ cup minced onion
3 tablespoons lemon juice
⅔ cup mayonnaise
½ tablespoon salt
1¼ cups mayonnaise
1 shallot, diced
¼ cup diced gherkins
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 parsley sprigs
½ teaspoon worcestershire sauce
2 pounds pickling cucumbers, sliced
3 tablespoons salt
2 cups distilled white vinegar
2 cups white sugar
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 tablespoon mustard seed
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
⅛ teaspoon ground clove
Bun Mi Sandwich
Make shrimp pâté
Blend shrimp until fine, then mix with butter, onion, lemon juice, mayonnaise, and salt.
Make tartar sauce
Mix ingredients and refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to come together.
Note: Plan to make the tartar sauce 1 day in advance.
Make B&B Pickles
- Place cucumbers in a medium bowl; pour salt over top and stir to coat completely. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate, stirring occasionally, 2 to 4 hours. Rinse cucumber mixture under cold water until all salt is washed away, about 3 to 4 minutes.
- Stir vinegar, sugar, ¼ cup water, garlic, mustard seed, celery seed, peppercorns, turmeric, and clove together in a saucepan; bring to a simmer and cook until flavors combine, about 2 minutes. Add cucumber mixture to brine and heat until almost boiling, then remove from heat and cool completely. Transfer to jars and store in refrigerator.
*Store-bought B&B pickles and tartar sauce work well. If you have the time, making these at home are worth the difference in quality.
Assemble Soft Shell Crab “Bun Mi”
- Slice each bun and spread shrimp pate on both sides. On each bottom bun, add tartar sauce and then b&b pickles.
- Place 1 fried soft-shell crab on top of pickles and spread a small amount of tartar sauce on top of each crab. Add a generous amount of dill on top of the crab and complete each sandwich with top bun.
Recipe ByThai Phi of Pink Bellies in Charleston