Doughboy -ruokablogi

Black Pepper Soft Shell Crabs

Deep South meets Singapore in this dish I cooked for Anna in her kitchen the other day when I was still too depressed to use mine in the middle of a construction site. I’m sure soft shell crabs are a treat outside the Southern States too – Louisiana and Mississippi especially, but that’s where I had the first taste of them so for me they’re always a part of fond memories from the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Black Pepper Softshell Crabs on Sticky Rice

Black pepper crab (and chili crab) on the other hand are something I’ve learned to enjoy in South East Asia, particularly in Singapore and in Hong Kong. There are other variations too, but I don’t really know their names. My hosts simply referred them as “spicy crab”. One of these spicy crab dishes I had in Hong Kong, and it had huge crabs cut into pieces on a bed of small whole chillies, which were mild enough to be eaten in heaps. I think the chillies were coated with a batter of some sort – if you think you might have a clue what this dish was, please leave a comment! I’d love to try to make it myself :)

Even though I’ve always enjoyed these Asian crab dishes a lot, I’ve also found it a bit onerous to separate the crab meat from the crushed shells and claws while dining. I had had my first spicy crabs way before Anna introduced me to the world of soft shells. The soft shell crabs I ate with her in Mississippi were deep fried in batter, and didn’t have much resemblance left to normal crabs taste or texturewise. I definitely didn’t hate them tough, but rather fancied the idea of chomping down whole crabs with shells, legs, claws and all.

I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you haven’t ever had soft shell crabs or perhaps even heard of them before – I hadn’t for sure before I saw two sitting on a plate in front of me in a restaurant :) If they are a new acquaintance for you, let me give a quick introduction: Soft shell crabs are blue (USA) or mangrove (Asia) crabs that have just molten their hard shells. As these crabs grow larger, their shells cannot expand so they molt the exteriors and have a soft covering for a matter of hours when they are vulnerable and considered usable. Usually crabs must be caught and killed within four hours of molting to be useful as soft shell crab. The resulting soft shell crab is a delicacy, which can literally be eaten whole, even though they look exacly like their hard shelled fellow creatures. I can promise you the first time you put a whole claw in you mouth feels really weird :)

Softshell crabs before steaming

Anyhow, since soft shell crabs can be eaten whole without any leftovers, I thought they’d make perfect spicy crabs. A couple of months ago I was strolling though the isles of an Asian grocery store in Sydney, and saw a rack of Singaporean chili and black pepper crab spice mixes. I bought one pack of Seah’s Black Pepper Crab Spices and brought it back to Finland with me.

Unfortunately soft shell crabs are really difficult to come by in Finland, so I had to wait almost three months until I found a new batch of them in one of the Asian stores I frequent in Helsinki. I finally had everything I needed for my Black Pepper Soft Shell Crabs experiment, and even Anna happened to be visiting from New York, so I knew my time had come.

Black Pepper Soft Shell Crabs

Serves 2

4 soft shell crabs
1-2 tbsp olive oil
black pepper crab spice mix (or make the spice mix from scratch)
fresh parsley for garnish

Clean the soft shell crabs by removing the mouth and eyes with scissors, lift the shell from both sides and remove the gills, and cut away the apron (tail).

Steam the crabs in a bamboo steamer for 5-10 minutes until cooked and the shells have turned red(dish). Discard extra juices.

Heat the oil in a wok and add the spice mix. Stir for a minute or two until fragrant, but be  careful not to burn the spices. Lower the temperature and add the crabs and mix and turn carefully for a little while until evenly coated with pepper and the crabs are warm again.

Serve immediately on a bed of rice.

16 Responses to “Black Pepper Soft Shell Crabs”  

  1. MM

    Ooohhh, yummy … wipe drool.

    The first time I ate soft shell crabs was in a Japanese restaurant in Singapore. It was so good I was an immediate fan. Yours looks really delish!

  2. Antti

    Hehe, thanks MM =) I was kinda counting on you though to give a hint re: the HK spicy crabs recipe… And sorry to hear about the stalker… hope you got it sorted out w/o starting a revolution or something ;)

  3. hfb

    If you ever get to Baltimore, go to Bertha’s (a local legend) and order a stack of Maryland Blue’s, either soft shell or the crab cakes. :) I prefer the crab cakes as there’s something about eating a critter whole that sorta squicks me.

  4. Anna

    Hei veli
    Kiitos viel? crabeista – en ollenkaan tajunnut ett? niitten pehme?kuorisuus on niin harvinainen olotila – ja aivan erityisesti jo legendaksi muodostuneesta sushifestista… Me paistettiin ne j?m?tonnikalapihvit eilen parillapannulla portugalilaiseen tapaan keitinperunoitten seuraksi ja ne oli yummyja, mutta kerro milloin voin ostaa sulle uuden pihvin sashimiksi?

    BTW, tied?tk? saako Suomessa myyd? lampaan tai vasikan aivoja? L?ysin tosi herkullisen aivoreseptin jota tekisi mielett?m?sti mieli kokeilla. Ja jos haluat h?r?nh?nt?muhennosta, tuu k?ym??n to-iltana.


  5. MM

    Hmmm, HK spicy crabs … without seeing the picture it is hard for me to tell. Were the chillies dried or fresh chillies?

    And re stalker .. shhhh, mebbe if we pretend he does not exist, he will go away.

  6. Pille

    Heippa Antti – is it a payback time for my laskiaispulla-post or what?? First baby octopus, now crab. Oh well, who said life is always easy…
    I’ll be patient and wait. Just wait… P:)

  7. Anna

    Hi hbf / Aevil, thanks for the tip! I love Baltimore (they have truly amazing Afghan restaurants, too) and might spend some time there this spring. I’m visiting Helsinki right now but haven’t managed to bump into you at the Alepa/Spar/Sesto of L?nnrotinkatu yet…

  8. mustekala

    This is truly exotic! Never heard of soft shell crabs before.

  9. J

    hi antti, black pepper crabs look amazing – as good as any to be found in singapore’s seafood joints along east coast. were you living in singapore for a while? – it takes an “honorary local” to know as much about our food as you do! cheers,j

  10. Antti

    J, Thanks for visiting! I’ve only visited Singapore twice very briefly, but I’ve had the honor to work with Singaporeans in other Asian countries too, so something must have rubbed off on me =)

    I really, really must try your crisp duck confit recipe! I simply can’t get it out of my mind…

  11. Antti

    MM, the more I think the less I remember of the spicy crab dish. But it MAY have been similar to the one in this picture:

    I.e. perhaps the crab was sitting on a pile of hot “crumbs” instead of whole chillies, as I remember eating those crumbs even after the crab meat was finished. In any case, the bed the crab was sitting on was dry.

  12. MM

    Cripes! I am not familiar with that dish – would be except for the addition of the coconut flakes. I’ve had another crab dish which is with ground buttery oats fried with Sichuan dried chilli flakes.

    Oh, heads up … I cannot post it on my blog until May/June but I am tasting 4 different crab dishes this coming Thursday, all with a modern Indochina twist. And I might be able to get one of the recipes for my blog. So fingers crossed.

    Maybe I can ask the chef is he know something about your crab dish in Hong Kong.

  13. Antti

    Thanks MM, I’ll be waiting :) I don’t remember any coconut flakes in the dish, but your description sounds pretty close… Does that particular dish have a specific name?

  14. MM

    Mean ole marketing guy was with us during the tasting and would not let the chef give me any recipes! I hate marketing people … so speaketh the ex-marketing person.

    OK, the butter oats crab I had today was not veyr spicey at all but the chef said you can crush dried Sichuan chillies and add to the mix to give it the spice. Butter oats is usually just oats fried in butter, he said. I noticed he added some crushed fried basil to the oats. Gave it a nice Indochinese spiciness.

    Sorry, I wish I was more help.

  15. Paul Orban

    Please let me know how to clean soft shell crabs
    best regards

  16. Antti

    Hi Paul, there’s a good tutorial about soft shell crab leaning at

    Thanks for visiting :)


Leave a Reply

Postings by Month