This Banh mi-style soft shell crab sandwich comes with a warning: it’s not dainty and you might get messy. But in return, you get one of the most delicious sandwiches I think I’ve had. Plus it’s easy to make, too.
When I saw the theme of this month’s Fish Friday Foodies was deep or pan-fried fish, I thought of a couple things before it then struck me: it’s soft shell crab season, so the decision is made. The fishmonger near me puts up a great big sign in their window saying ‘soft shell crab’ so everyone knows it’s in stock during the season. I’m clearly not the only fan as they often sell out early. Typically I pan fry it and serve it with some simple sides such as salad and potatoes, but this time I took a little inspiration from seeing a soft shell crab sandwich in a local cafe last year. This banh mi-style soft shell crab sandwich was my own twist on the idea and it was so good.
What is soft shell crab?
Soft shell crabs are just crabs that have shed their old shell and whose new shell is soft until it hardens up, hence their season is limited (in the US it’s blue crabs). I had only had soft shell crab once before I moved here and it was at a smart Indian restaurant so wasn’t cooked ‘typically’. But when I first saw it in the fishmonger nearby, I knew I had to try cooking it myself. The first time I bought it I had to look up how it is cleaned etc to make sure I didn’t need to do anything more than the fishmonger had done (which I didn’t), and ways to cook it. Now, they’re something we look forward to having a few times each season.
Tips for buying soft shell crabs
One tip for getting soft shell crab is to have it prepared by your fishmonger as it makes it easier than having to know which bits to remove. I would always choose them live in the fishmonger then they clean them up over being ready-prepared as you don’t know how long they have sat out and I think you can taste the difference when they are cleaned up just shortly before cooking.
How to cook soft shell crab
Cooking soft shell crab is really easy as you simply dry it off, dredge it in seasoned flour then pan fry it. You can tell when it is cooked as it turns from blue to orange. Everything else for this soft shell crab sandwich is really quick to put together too (and you can make the carrots ahead of time). Then get your napkin out, bite in and enjoy.
It’s hard to describe exactly what makes soft shell crab so delicious but think of a juicy piece of crab with a slight crunch on the outside and you are pretty close. It has quite a mild flavor and can take heavier seasoning which is why I decided it would be perfect in this sandwich (if you want a more traditional banh mi, try my banh mi pork as a filling). With the slight spice from the sriracha mayo, the crunch and sweet tanginess of the pickled carrots as well as fresh herbiness from the cilantro, it’s a truly delicious combination. A bit messy, yes, but so worth it. Give it a try and I bet you’ll agree.
Banh mi-style soft shell crab sandwich
For quick pickles
- 2 carrots
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup water 4 tbsp
For rest of sandwich
- 2 soft shell crab cleaned - ask your fishmonger
- 2 tbsp flour
- salt and pepper
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil plus possibly a bit more depending on size of pan
- 1 baguette or ciabatta loaf or two rolls
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise 4tbsp
- 1/2 tsp sriracha sauce
- 2 lettuce leaves (suggest romaine)
- 4 stems cilantro/coriander leaves only, approx
To make pickles (can be done ahead)
- Peel the carrots then cut them julienne (in thin slices then cut the slices into small strips) into medium-sized lengths. Put them in a bowl and add the salt and sugar. Rub the salt and sugar into the carrots until you start to draw liquid and the carrots start to feel a bit more bendy. Add the vinegar and water and leave to pickle slightly. You can make the carrots a day or two ahead of time.
For rest of sandwich
- Pat the crabs dry. Put the flour on a plate and add some salt and pepper and mix through. Dredge the crabs in the seasoned four so you have a little all over then shake off any excess.
- Heat the oil in a medium-large skillet/frying pan over a medium heat then add the crabs.
- Cook crabs for around 3min each side until they have turned orange - if some parts of the legs don't change color then gently press them in to the pan to make contact. If you don't really have any oil left when you turn them, add a little more.
- While the crabs are cooking, cut two good-sized chunks about as wide as the crabs from the baguette and slice open.
- Mix together the mayonnaise and sriracha and spread a thin layer over the inside of the baguette chunks. Add some lettuce to the bottom of the sandwiches.
- When the crabs are cooked, add them into your sandwiches, topped with a handful of the pickled carrots, drained of their pickling water, and topped with a few cilantro leaves (remove the longer stems but no need to take off or chop individual leaves).
- Serve with napkins and enjoy!
See all the other pan and deep fried fish and seafood dishes being shared today: