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How to Cook Vietnamese Soft Shell Crab – Pan Fried & Crispy

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

Why Vietnamese Soft Shell Crab is So Amazing

Soft-shell crabs are one of my most treasured foods, so it isn’t really fair that I’m sharing these with you!

It isn’t because I don’t want to share. It is because they are hard to find, and though the soft shell crab season is just beginning, they can usually only be found at specialty markets.

Home cooks 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.

How Soft Shell Crabs Got Their Name

Soft shell crabs are crabs that are in the process of shedding their old shell 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 isn’t so sketchy anymore; it’s actually quite colorful.

I remember reading a restaurant review about a new joint serving Vietnamese delicacies. Since we lived in the mountains then 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.

What Makes Vietnamese Soft Shell Crabs So Special

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

However, this batter would also work well with shrimp!

 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.

Vietnamese Soft Shell Crab.

From Take Out to Homemade

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, but 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.

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.

Vietnamese Soft Shell Crab.

So it wasn’t too long ago that I found myself in the heart of Denver, near one of the city’s gourmet markets. This is the kind of place you go when you want special meat, fish, or 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 has to stop and think how badly one wants said crab – well, at least this one does.

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.

Fried Soft Shell Crab.

Making Pan Fried Vietnamese Soft Shell Crabs

This recipe would be divine as a filling for soft-shell crab sandwiches. You could stuff it into a bun or use it as part of a Vietnamese banh mi. 

In fact, these beer-battered soft shell crabs would make a divine soft shell crab sandwich recipe dolloped with tartar sauce or remoulade sauce and served on a soft French roll.

I served them Vietnamese style, which meant wrapping them in a lettuce leaf with various herbs. So good and so fresh and this is one way to make a somewhat healthy wrap!

Soft shells are easy to prepare. And fast. I suffered through the photo taking;  I didn’t want to, but knowing I don’t make soft shells often, I wanted to show the kids my idea of a proper last meal.

This was one quick photo shoot because I didn’t 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.

Vietnamese Soft Shell Crab.

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of batter or breading works best for frying soft shell crabs?

The best batter or breading for frying soft shell crabs comes down to personal preference.  Some like the tempura style batter like the one in this recipe, while others prefer a more basic flour coating.  Try this combination for a seasoned flour coating: combine all-purpose flour with salt, pepper, and other desired seasonings such as garlic powder, paprika, or Old Bay seasoning for a classic seafood flavor.

What oil should I use for frying soft shell crabs, and at what temperature?

Use an oil with a high smoke point and a neutral flavor to prevent overpowering the delicate taste of the crab. Suitable oils for frying include vegetable oil, canola oil, peanut oil, or grapeseed oil.

Can I prepare soft shell crabs ahead of time before frying, and if so, what’s the best way to store them?

Soft shelled crabs can be prepped ahead, but not cooked!  To prepare them, make sure they are clean and dry off with paper towels.  Place in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.  Leave space between the crabs so they don’t stick together.  Refrigerate up to 6 hours before cooking.

More Vietnamese Recipes to Try

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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Vietnamese Soft Shell Crabs

Vietnamese Soft Shell Crab

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star 5 from 2 reviews
  • 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


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


Units Scale

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



Bean Sprouts


Make sure your fishmonger gives you fresh soft shell crabs and that they are clean.

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 mixture into the beer mixture. It should have the consistency of thin pancake batter and may be a bit lumpy, so do 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 large skillet with high sides or a 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 or place on a wire rack and place on a pan in the oven.

Dip crab into batter and allow the excess to drip off.  Holding the crab by the shell flaps, carefully lower the bottom side of the crab – legs and body – into the hot 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. Or serve these on a burger bun or French bread!

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, and these fried soft shell crabs will become on of your favorite foods, too!


Thank you Vietnamese Home Cooking.

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



Recipe rating 5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star


Thursday 30th of April 2020

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

John / Kitchen Riffs

Saturday 25th of April 2020

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


Saturday 25th of April 2020

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

Saturday 25th of April 2020

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


Friday 24th of April 2020

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!