Asian Recipes/ Main Course/ Seafood and Fish

Vietnamese Soft Shell Crab

Vietnamese Soft Shell Crabs
Soft shell crabs are Spring food. They are rich, luscious, slightly sweet and so good, you will wish you could find them more often.

Vietnamese Soft Shell Crabs

(This is an updated post from 2016)

Soft shell crabs are one of my most treasured foods, so it really isn’t fair that I’m sharing these with you. It isn’t because I don’t want to share. It is because soft shell crabs are hard to find and though the season is just beginning, they usually can only be found at specialty markets.

 You might be able to find frozen soft shells-I’ve never tried them-but I can guarantee that Vietnamese restaurants must be buying them frozen because they serve soft shell crabs year round. 

Vietnamese Soft Shell Crab

Why are they called soft shell crabs?

Soft shell crabs are crabs that are in the process of shedding their shells as they grow a new, larger shell. They must be removed from the water before the new shell hardens. This happens every three to five days during the growth season from April to September.

My love affair with these sweet and luscious crabs began many years ago – pre kid – is how I remember it. We first discovered Vietnamese food in a sketchy part of town that really isn’t so sketchy anymore; it’s actually quite colorful.

I remember reading a restaurant review about a great new joint serving Vietnamese delicacies. Since we lived in the mountains at the time, and drove by this exit to get home, we figured we’d stop. Little did we know everyone else had stopped too.

In general, Manservant and I are not waiters. We are not the patient type; but being in a part of town we weren’t yet familiar with, we decided to wait. Life has never been the same since.

Vietnamese Soft Shell Crab

Vietnamese soft shell crabs have a perfectly crunchy and light crust made with a beer batter. I love this recipe and use it every time I can get my hands on crabs.

 If you have never eaten Vietnamese food know that it is a world away from Chinese, Japanese or even Thai. It has French influences and even uses butter in some sauces. Fresh ingredients are played up, which is one reason I adore Vietnamese cuisine.

This unique cuisine combines sweet and spicy, salty and sour elements, in a complex way. As we stood in line at the restaurant; inching forward in this hole in the wall, we slowly found ourselves standing by the kitchen where we ogled every dish that passed under our noses.

We quickly discovered that soft shell crabs, piled high on platters with fresh greens and herbs were quite popular. They looked delectable and smelled addictively good.

Upon being seated in our cozy booth, we immediately placed our order for the crabs. Now crabs aren’t cheap and still we splurged. Of course crabs are still not cheap and our budget doesn’t seem to have really changed, so they are still a splurge, but a worthy one.

Vietnamese Soft Shell Crab

Succulent sweet crabs in a crunchy light batter, wrapped in soft leaf lettuce, filled with fresh herbs and dipped in a salty, spicy, sweet fish sauce is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Yeah-they are even better than that. Whatever that may be.

So it wasn’t too long ago when I found myself in the heart of Denver, near one of the city’s more gourmet markets; the kind of place you go when you want special meat or fish or those hard to find ingredients.

I decided to stop in to see what I might find for dinner and spotted the sign for soft shell crabs. At $8.99 apiece one, well at least this one, has to stop and think how badly does one want said crab. Realizing Manservant was abroad and probably eating at some fancy restaurant on his expense account, sealed the deal. I had them clean two, and went home and fried these up.

Vietnamese Soft Shell Crab

Soft shells are easy to prepare. And fast. The hardest thing was taking the photos. I really didn’t want too, but knowing I don’t make soft shells often, I wanted to show the kids my idea of a proper last meal.

I swear if you see anything shiny in the photo, well, it is probably drool. This was one quick photo shoot, because I didn’t to want to rewarm these babes. I didn’t want to lose the crunch or the heat. I wanted to savor the salt of the sea and the sweet white crab, as quickly as possible.

I just have one last thing to add. I wish I would have bought three.

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Vietnamese Soft Shell Crab

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Vietnamese Soft Shell Crabs

Vietnamese Soft Shell Crab

  • Author: Abbe Odenwalder
  • Prep Time: 20 Minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 Minutes
  • Total Time: 30 Minutes
  • Yield: 4 Servings 1x
  • Category: Main course/appetizer
  • Method: Fry
  • Cuisine: Vietnamese

Description

Fried Soft Shell Crabs are a treat. Luscious and lavish, these crabs are divine!


Scale

Ingredients

4 Jumbo soft shell crabs, cleaned

2/3 c flour

1/2 c cornstarch

1 1/2 t baking powder

1 t ground turmeric

1/2 t kosher salt

1/8 t cayenne pepper

1 medium egg

1 t rice wine vinegar

1 12 oz bottle wheat beer (not a bitter beer)

Canola or peanut oil for frying

Nuoc Cham Sauce for Serving
Leaf Lettuce

Cilantro

Mint

Bean Sprouts


Instructions

Make sure your fishmonger cleans the crabs.

In a 2 c mixing cup, stir together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, turmeric, salt and cayenne.

In a larger bowl, whisk together the egg, vinegar and 1/2 a bottle of the beer. Using a spatula, fold the flour into the beer mixture. It should have the consistency of thin pancake batter and may be a bit lumpy, so not over mix. Add more beer if needed to achieve the desired consistency. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Make your nuoc cham sauce and get your salad plate ready. I made an additional sauce of black pepper, lots of garlic and butter. That’s pretty good, also!

When ready to fry, pour oil to a depth of 2 inches into a high sided skillet or wok. Heat oil over high heat to 375. Preheat oven to 250 if you want to keep these warm and cover a baking sheet or plate with paper towels.

Dip crab into batter and allow the excess to drip off.  Holding the crab by the shell flaps, carefully lower the crab legs and body into the hot oil. Wait for a few seconds and then drop the entire crab into the oil. Repeat with other crabs. Cook for about 6 minutes until golden and crispy.

Drain on paper towels and keep warm in oven until all crabs are ready. Cut each crab in half and serve with sauce and salad plate.

To eat, wrap each half of the crab in a lettuce leaf, add some of the herbs, fold taco style and dip in sauce. Your life will never be the same!


Notes

Thank you Vietnamese Home Cooking.

Note: This batter would also be great for most any seafood!

Keywords: soft shell crab, recipe for soft shell crab, Vietnamese soft shell crab, when soft shell crab season

More to try:
Vietnamese Meatball Noodle Bowl with Nuoc Cham
Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup
Vietnamese Style Cole Slaw and Coconut Corn

Goi Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Salad)

Vietnamese Chicken Salad (Goi Ga)

Grilled Pork Noodle Bowls

Grilled Pork Noodle Bowls

Vietnamese Chicken Corn Soup

Vietnamese Chicken Corn Soup

 

 
 
 

 

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  • Susan
    April 30, 2020 at 8:26 am

    I adore soft shell crab but have never tried making them at home. What a great recipe for them!

  • John / Kitchen Riffs
    April 25, 2020 at 11:35 am

    SO glad to see this dish again. Soft shell crabs are simply divine, and this is a neat way to prepare them. 🙂

  • sherry
    April 25, 2020 at 6:41 am

    this looks fabulous abbe. i’ve had these a few times and yes they are delicious. I like prawns done this way too, where you can eat just about the whole thing except the last tiny bit of hard tail shell. hope you’re keeping well.
    cheers
    sherry

  • Healthy World Cuisine
    April 25, 2020 at 6:15 am

    Love soft crabs! Have not had them since living in Asia… I can imagine how crispy and succulent the crab meat is. Delicious! Hope everyone is staying well. Take Care

  • Juliana
    April 24, 2020 at 7:06 pm

    Abbe, I cannot believe that so many years passed and I yet have to try making this…they look absolutely delicious, I love soft shell crabs, I hope I get to make before you update this post again…
    Have a wonderful weekend and stay safe my dear!

  • 2sistersrecipes
    April 24, 2020 at 12:50 pm

    Omg we haven’t had crabs in a long time and these sound amazing Abbe! Can’t wait to get my hands on crabs so we can try your recipe! Thanks! And stay safe!! Xo Anna and Liz

  • Tami
    May 20, 2018 at 11:41 am

    Abbe, what is the yellow sauce you have along side the Nuoc Cham? I am trying them today since I love soft shell crabs. I get mine frozen from a restaurant store.

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      May 20, 2018 at 2:39 pm

      Lucky you. It is garlic butter. I prefer the Nuoc cham.Let me know how the frozen ones work. Then I will try them too!

      • Tami
        May 20, 2018 at 2:46 pm

        Thanks, it looked like it had a mustard base to it! Never can go wrong with garlic butter! 🙂

  • ChgoJohn
    July 24, 2016 at 2:57 am

    I am soo glad that you mentioned this post, Abbe. (I was on hiatus at the time) I've got the crabs and I will surely give it a try. Can't wait! Thank you so much!

  • Adam J. Holland
    June 26, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    I guess I missed this post when it was published. Damn me! Now I'll have to wait until these little jewels come back into season. Looks wonderful!

  • Amy (Savory Moments)
    June 20, 2016 at 8:48 pm

    This dish looks amazing! Beautiful and such a unique post.

  • Holly @ abakershouse.com
    June 19, 2016 at 3:11 pm

    I think I'm missing out– I've never made these at home and only once have eaten soft shell crabs. They seem intimidating to make at home and you've done it masterfully!

  • SavoringTime in the Kitchen
    June 18, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    I dearly love soft shell crab but have never tried making them myself because I thought they had to be cooked live, like lobster, and I just couldn't do it. Never thought of asking the fish market to do it for me! They look absolutely delicious, Abbe!

  • Anu - My Ginger Garlic Kitchen
    June 17, 2016 at 9:08 am

    What a stunning and impressive looking platter, Abbe. My husband loves seafood and also asian flavors. So this is a MUST make recipe for him. I am sure he will enjoy this. Thanks for this fabulous share.

  • Sugar et al.
    June 16, 2016 at 11:05 pm

    Just AH-MA-ZING! Australia is all about seafood so we eat a lot of crabs here. I have never made them at home though. Yours looks like the ones we eat in great restaurants.Perfect colour and condiments!

  • Juliana
    June 16, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    I love soft shell crab, and always order when it is available but I never made it myself…looks delicious Abbe.
    Thanks for the recipe…one day I will try it!
    Hope you are having a wonderful week 🙂

  • La Table De Nana
    June 16, 2016 at 3:56 pm

    Oh they look wonderful..I took pics of seafood stands in Paris..:)

  • Cheri Savory Spoon
    June 16, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    Hi Abbe, what an impressive meal. Crab is my favorite of all fish and I love how you prepared them. Love your story, way to go.

  • Pam
    June 15, 2016 at 9:47 pm

    They look delicious! We have several Vietnamese restaurants here, but have never made them at home. Thanks for the recipe!

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      June 16, 2016 at 2:53 am

      Try them Pam. Our Vietnamese restaurants here are fabulous. Don't know about yours, but if they are on the menu, I'd go for it!

  • Liz Berg
    June 15, 2016 at 6:32 pm

    Wow, these sound fabulous! What a treat!!!

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      June 16, 2016 at 2:52 am

      They were a treat Liz. Now I'll have to go back to the Vietnamese restaurant to get more! So much fun if you can find them in season!

  • Chris Scheuer
    June 15, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    What a fun and delicious looking splurge! I love soft shell crab but would never have thought of making them myself. Thanks!

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      June 16, 2016 at 2:51 am

      This recipe is easy peasy! And so, so good!

  • Sippity Sup
    June 15, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    I am SO impressed by this. Just stunning! GREG

  • chefmimiblog.com
    June 15, 2016 at 3:11 pm

    These really look good. I've never had them, and I know I couldn't cook them myself. KInda like lobsters!

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      June 16, 2016 at 2:51 am

      You could cook these yourself. And they are kinda like lobsters, but different. In some ways, better! I prefer them like this rather than sauteed!

  • Angie Schneider
    June 15, 2016 at 4:10 am

    These soft shell crabs are killing me, Abbe. It has been AGES since I had some. My mouth is watering terribly!

  • Sharon D
    June 15, 2016 at 2:51 am

    This looks amazing, Abbe! I love crabs but don't cook it now although I used to. Is it silly that I've stopped cooking it for the past few years to protect my non-stick cooking pan from having scratch marks …? ..Lol!

  • Kitchen Riffs
    June 15, 2016 at 12:20 am

    Totally love soft shell crabs. Never met one I didn't like. Never tried them Vietnamese style, though — this sounds like a really good recipe. Think I'll have them soon, so I can get in practice for my last meal. 🙂

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      June 16, 2016 at 2:49 am

      You must try them this way. Succulent, sweet, salty, savory-these are outstanding! Those last meals are very important, John! Whether it is the last meal at the end of the day or THE LAST MEAL!

  • Karen Harris
    June 14, 2016 at 11:36 pm

    Oh you are killing me. These look wonderful!

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      June 16, 2016 at 2:48 am

      No Karen, you are just supposed to kill the crabs! These are superb!

  • Tricia @ Saving room for dessert
    June 14, 2016 at 6:15 pm

    I haven't had them in years! Here in Virginia we can get soft shell crabs from the Chesapeake Bay area. They are much smaller and I heard there is only a 24 hour window that they remain soft. Very cool! Love this recipe and your lovely story. Enjoy!

    • Libby Weiner
      June 15, 2016 at 12:13 am

      Loved your recipe. I,ve been wanting to make these for a long time, but afraid it was toop hard to kill the crabs . You have freed me.

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      June 16, 2016 at 2:47 am

      I'd be eating them all the time Tricia! Thanks! And Mom, they will kill them for you! You will be freed, but they won't!