Soft-Shell Crabs at Napoli 2

Categories: Try This Now

Napoli2-Peelers.jpg
Deborah Hyland
The "Peelers" at Napoli 2
​Traditionally, soft-shell crab season begins on the first full moon in May, when blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay molt, leaving them with paper-thin shells. Theoretically, soft-shells are available until September, but good luck finding them in St. Louis after late June.

The rest of the year, a blue crab requires boiling, a wooden crab mallet and cuticles of steel to pick out tiny bits of meat. (Gut Check shudders and refuses to contemplate so-called crab cakes, those clots of seasoned bread crumbs.) During soft-shell season, however, the crabs only need a dusting of flour and a quick pan fry. The entire crab is edible: claws, body, even the paddle-like swimming legs.

If you want to be pretentiously hip, order some "peelers," which is what they're called in Maryland and Virginia. Your waiter or waitress will have no idea what you're talking about though. Instead, just be grateful you can eat them at all. The Chesapeake Bay blue crab population struggled in the past decade, but the population is rebounding well.

This particular specimen currently appears on the specials menu at Napoli 2 (1054 Town and Country Crossing; 636-256-9998). The appetizer size contains one soft-shell with a light mustard sauce on a bed of spinach, but the kitchen happily prepared an entrée-sized serving.

If you've spotted soft-shells at any local restaurants, please let us know in the comments. Gut Check prefers that they not be too tarted up, but does humbly suggest that they make a particularly lovely base for eggs benedict.

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AmyH
AmyH

Maybe instead of being closed minded, Gut Check should list where one can find good crab cakes in St. Louis. Not everyone likes soft shell crabs, but love a good crab cake which is barely being held together with non-crab ingredients. They do exist.

stlfoodmod
stlfoodmod

Amy, not sure what's closed-minded about celebrating the brief soft-shell season, but please don't jump to the conclusion that Gut Check turns up our nose at crab cakes. Gut Check loves us some crab cakes.

In fact, RFT restaurant critic Ian Froeb comes from the land of the crab cake (Baltimore). He's kinda fussy about crab cakes -- maybe even a little uppity -- but not close-minded. If you ask him nice, he might recommend some restaurants that serve good ones. (He likes his with a minimum of binder -- breadcrumbs in particular -- and a maximum of crab.

Meanwhile, if you ask me, nothing tops making your own crab cakes at home. Key is to buy fresh crab meat - NOT the stuff that comes refrigerated in a can. Call ahead to Bob's Seafood out on Olive & 170 and ask 'em if they have FRESH crab meat. If at all possible, buy the claw meat. It's cheaper by half than white or lump, and it has a nicer texture.

Here's a link to a good recipe, which my sister and brother-in-law adapted from the classic Joy of Cooking recipe: http://bit.ly/kNmw2u

-Tom Finkel

AmyH
AmyH

I (apparently mistakenly) assumed by your statement "Gut Check shudders and refuses to contemplate so-called crab cakes, those clots of seasoned bread crumbs." that you were airing your dislike of crab cakes. I do agree that most crab cakes here in the Midwest are made with a lot of other material and often are made of snow crab. Ptooey!

I don't need a recipe for them since I lived on the Southeast coast long enough to know a good crab cake; thanks though. I haven't made them here since canned blue crab is gross; although the refrigerated stuff in the tub is suitable for dip. I didn't know you could get fresh blue crabs here since fresh shrimp is not an option. I have my own preferences for what type of meat is the best; but I respect your opinion on the matter. I suspect Southern crab cakes are not the same as Maryland ones, since Southern food has it's own distinctive palate. The ones I had in Baltimore were...different.

Chris McKenzie
Chris McKenzie

I just had a Soft Shell Crab sandwich at Lola's Dub brunch on Sat, starring ThinkTank.  It was served on a french roll, with lettuce tomato and some tangy cajun mayo like sauce.  Pretty good sammy.  the chalkboard indicated they were serving it all last weekend.

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