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I know what you are going to say. The only way to prepare Maryland soft shell crabs is the way we have always done it -- dust them in flour, salt and pepper and deep fry in oil or saute in butter. Nothing more. Nothing less. Case closed.

Well, it's time to open your minds. Just this one time. Trust me. I have taken some of the basics of soft crabs and added a modern twist -- slivered almonds sauted in butter with a touch of Amaretto. The liqueur intensifies the flavor of the almonds and adds an interesting contrast of sweetness while allowing the distinctive flavor of the crab to come through.

Soft shells are enjoying an excellent season right now and supply is good, according to Noreen Eberley of the Maryland's Office of Seafood Marketing. Remember, they are available as fresh as long as the weather stays warm -- through the end of September to early October. Frozen crabs are available year 'round.

Buy live crabs and store them in your refrigerator between wet newspapers or paper towels on a drip proof tray. Plan to eat them as soon as possible because they will only live one or two days. Or purchase them cleaned and dressed from the seafood market.

Serve the soft shells with broiled tomato and wild rice and end the meal with a summery tropical fruit, such as a papaya.

Items you should have in your pantry include: Flour, salt, white pepper, butter, Amaretto, lime, Parmesan cheese, Italian bread crumbs, wild rice.

Your 10-item-or-less shopping list should include:

* 4 soft shell crabs

* 1 bag (2 ounces) slivered almonds

* salad greens: radicchio, watercress, Boston lettuce, etc.

* 2 tomatoes

* fresh basil

* tropical fruit, such as papaya or mango

Almond-studded soft shell crabs

Makes two servings.

4 soft shell crabs, cleaned


1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1/4 pound butter plus 1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon Amaretto

2 ounces slivered almonds

salad greens: radicchio, watercress, Boston lettuce, etc.

lime, for garnish

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Puncture claws and legs of the crabs with a fork or they will pop and spatter when you are cooking them. On a large plate, combine the flour, salt and white pepper. Dredge the crabs in the flour mixture.

Meanwhile, heat the 1/4 pound butter in a large frying pan until very hot. Remove the solids to clarify. Place two crabs in the pan, top side down and saute about 3 minutes on medium high heat. Flip them over and saute another 2 minutes. Reserve first set of crabs. Saute next set of crabs.

Place crabs on cookie sheet. Bake for another 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, add 1 tablespoon butter and Amaretto to frying pan and scrape bottom of the pan with a spatula, mixing any of the crab drippings well into the butter. Add almonds and brown, about 2 minutes. Arrange salad greens on plate. Place crab on greens and top crab with almonds. Garnish with lime.

Grilled tomatoes

Makes four servings.

2 tomatoes, cut in half

2 tablespoons butter

4 teaspoons Parmesan cheese

4 teaspoons Italian bread crumbs

fresh basil, for garnish

Melt butter. Brush on top of tomato halves. Sprinkle each half with 1 teaspoon each of cheese and bread crumbs. Broil for about 2 minutes. Garnish with fresh basil leaves and serve.

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