Thai-Fried Soft Shells with Sweet Chili Sauce

Soft shell crabs are an odd delicacy, which seem to be an either/or proposition with most.  Some can’t get enough of them, others can’t quite get past the visual.  I fall into the former lot.  I look forward every summer.

Cooks often want to get all cute with soft shells.  Sautee them with leeks and tomato, achieve balance, crisping the shells with a shallow pan fry.  This is not my preferred method.

Soft shell crabs are tiny sea monsters that we pluck from the ocean at their most vulnerable, slice off their eyes and assholes, and rip out their lungs, before eating them whole.  I don’t want to be all sensual.  I think they deserve a viking funeral.  I deep fry them, with a batter based on Thai fried chicken.  It uses an alkaline limestone solution which makes the coating extremely crispy.  The texture makes biting into the sweet, salty nuggets of backfin all the better.  Thai sweet chili sauce is great on crab, and though potent, doesn’t completely dominate its flavor.

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Mise en Place

Equipment

  • food processor or blender
  • large bowl
  • dutch oven
  • cooling rack set over sheet pan

Ingredients

Batter

  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 2 tbs chopped cilantro roots or stems
  • 2 large cloves chopped garlic
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 3 tbs oyster sauce
  • 3/4 cup rice flour
  • 1/2 cup limestone water
  • 1-2 cups rice flour
  • 2 quarts canola oil
  • 4-6 softshells, freshly killed and cleaned
  • thai sweet chili sauce, store-bought or homemade

1) Make the batter.  Place all the batter ingredients into a blender or food processor and process until smooth.

2) Batter the crabs.  Coat the crabs completely in batter before dredging in additional rice flour.  Rest on rack sat over sheet pan for twenty minutes, while the oil comes to temperature over high heat in a dutch oven or large pot.

3) Fry the crabs when the oil is hot enough that the handle of a wooden spoon or chopstick bubbles vigorously when submerged.   Move them around a bit to make sure they don’t stick together.  Remove from the oil when golden brown and serve with Thai sweet chili sauce.

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