What to Eat This Weekend: Softshell Crabs, Sauteed and Otherwise

These delicate crustaceans are scuttling onto menus all over the Delaware Valley

It’s the heart of softshell crab season and the dainty sea creatures are the special guest star in many of the region’s restaurants. Softshell crabs, for the uninitiated, are crabs that have shed their shells — a process known as molting — in order to grow. They start the molting process in early May and remain in this tender, vulnerable state until early fall, when the shells toughen up and the crabs go about their crabby business until the next season. If you’ve never eaten softshells, their appearance may take some getting used to — they’re served whole and you eat every part of them — legs, claws and all (although the lungs, digestive tract and eyes are removed). Softshells are most often served battered and fried, or flour-dusted and sauteed (read: French for fried); if you’re up for this summer specialty, here are five Philly-area restaurants that will be serving them this weekend.

Barclay Prime
At Stephen Starr’s swank steakhouse, chef Jason Hanin pan-fries softshells before placing them atop a salad of grilled corn, slow-roasted tomatoes, basil, Branch Creek baby lettuces, and avocado buttermilk dressing.
Barclay Prime, 237 South 18th Street, 215-732-7560

Bridget Foy’s
The South Street fixture offers a rotating selection of softshell dishes. For lunch, try the Kenzinger beer-battered softshell crab sandwich served with roasted red pepper hash and avocado aioli. Depending on the day, dinner dishes may include tempura-battered softshells with udon noodles and a spicy peanut sauce, or pan-seared softshells over linguini with tomatoes and arugula in a garlic white wine sauce. For a Southern-style softshell, there’s cornmeal-crusted crab in peach salsa with grits.
Bridget Foy’s, 200 South Street, 215-922-1813

Marsha Brown
The Creole-inflected New Hope spot offers a softshell entrée with two pan-seared crabs over a marinated onion, cucumber and baby arugula salad with a roasted red pepper remoulade.
Marsha Brown, 15 South Main Street, New Hope, 215-862-7044

Oyster House
The Sansom Street spot celebrates its one-year anniversary this Friday night with a buck-a-shuck celebration, should your hunger extend beyond oysters, there’s a softshell po’boy with Creole remoulade on the Saturday lunch menu and a sauteed softshell entree on the dinner menu. The preparation of the latter changes nightly, a recent version included sauteed artichoke hearts, bitter greens and a lemon vinaigrette.
Oyster House, 1516 Sansom Street, 215-567-7683

Standard Tap
Have softshells two ways here. In a twist on a crabcake sandwich, the Tap serves softshell crabs tucked into a roll with a mustard aioli. Or have them as an entrée, pan-fired with local vegetable salad and lemon chalada aioli.
Standard Tap, 901 North 2nd Street, Philadelphia, 215-238-0630

Photo courtesy B-Tal via Flickr
*Additional reporting by Lyndsey Wajert