Sautéed Soft-Shell Crabs With Lemon-Butter Pan Sauce Recipe

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

From May through September, blue crabs shed their hard shells as part of their growing process. When caught before the new shell hardens, they’re the delicacy known as soft-shell crabs. There’s very little of a soft-shell crab that you can’t eat, though there area few bits that should go before you fry them up (consult our guide to cleaning soft-shell crabs for more on that, or ask your fishmonger to do it for you).

While there are many ways to prepare soft-shells (battered and fried are pretty killer), at home I prefer to quickly sauté them in butter after lightly dredging them. The faster I can get a fresh soft-shell onto my plate, the better. I’ve tested cornstarch and flour dredging, and both have their advantages. Cornstarch makes a light and crispy coating, but I opted for flour in this recipe since it gives the crabs a crunchier exterior and a more robust flavor that pairs really well with the browned butter in the pan sauce that goes on top.

As for that pan sauce, it’s just browned butter, some frizzled capers, lemon juice, and parsley—a perfect topper to plump, juicy, and briny soft-shell crabs. For students of French cuisine, this sauce is more or less a grenobloise (which is itself meunière sauce with the addition of capers). Those French names may sound fancy, but the sauce is dead simple to make.

Why It Works

  • A light flour dredging creates a pleasingly crunchy crust on the crabs without weighing them down.
  • Adding lemon juice to the brown-butter sauce balances the flavor and prevents the butter from over-browning.
  • Yield:Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a starter
  • Active time:20 minutes
  • Total time:20 minutes
  • Ingredients

    • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
    • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 4 large soft-shell crabs, preferably jumbo or “whale” size, cleaned
    • 1 stick (8 tablespoons; 120g) unsalted butter, divided
    • 1 tablespoon drained capers
    • 2 tablespoons (30ml) fresh lemon juice from one lemon
    • 1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley leaves and tender stems


    1. 1.

      In a shallow bowl, season flour with salt and pepper. Lightly dredge crabs in the seasoned flour.

    2. 2.

      In a 10-inch stainless steel skillet, melt 4 tablespoons (60g) butter over medium-high heat until foamy. Add crabs, shell-side down, and cook until browned and crisp, about 3 minutes; be careful, as soft-shell crabs sometimes pop in the pan. Flip crabs and cook until crisp and golden on bottom side, about 3 minutes. Transfer crabs to paper towel-lined plates and season lightly with salt.

    3. 3.

      Add remaining 4 tablespoons (60g) butter to the skillet and melt until foaming. Lower heat to medium and cook until the butter turns a medium-brown color, about 2 minutes.

    4. 4.

      Add capers and cook until lightly crisped, about 1 minute. Add lemon juice, swirl to combine, and remove from heat.

    5. 5.

      Stir parsley into pan sauce, season with salt, if needed. Transfer crabs to a serving platter and spoon sauce on top. Serve right away.

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