In this world of food-system globalization, most foods are accessible year-round. Yes, my summer tomato bears little resemblance to the pulpy, mealy, and often flavorless winter variety, but they are at least the same species. Several foods (ramps, wild blueberries, etc.) remain strictly seasonal, and somehow all-the-more special. The soft-shell crab is one of them. Plucked from the ocean just after they molt, their shell is still soft enough to eat whole, and their taste is briny and soulful.
Around this time of year, nearly every culinary magazine, newspaper and insert along the eastern seaboard features an article on these recently molted crustaceans. Most commonly they are deep fried, and although health conscious chefs (Sean Brock, author of this Wall Street Journal Recipe on soft-shells, being one of them) have tried alternatives, they tend to revert to the "give the people what they want" ideology. Sean also included a lemon parsley vinaigrette, complete with bacon pan drippings and rendered fat.
Maybe the most comprehensive recipe to come out of this soft-shell season is from Mark Bittman. It includes three methods, four coatings, and five sauces. Bittman includes a grilling and sauteing option, but with the butter-basting or clarified butter use, I don't think these will really appease the health-conscious. Where the recipe truly excels is in the breading and sauce options. As a Rhode-Islander by birth, I have to suggest the corn meal option (why not whip up some Johnnycakes while you're at it). I really cannot, however, decide on just one sauce. But hey, soft-shell crab season is only once a year. Why not make 'em all?
The Soft-Shell Hard Sell from The New York Times Magazine
Lowcountry Soft-Shell Crab from The Wall Street Journal