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Eat This Tonight: Soft shell crabs

Fried, sandwiched, sautéed

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Soft shell crabs have arrived, making their first appearance this season on menus all around town. Blue crabs are plentiful in Carolina waters, and as they grow, they shed their hard shells, leaving them deliciously vulnerable. Traditionally, soft shells are breaded and deep fried and eaten in their entirety. Here's a breakdown of where you can find them this weekend and how they're being prepared by various chefs. We highly recommend feasting on this delicacy while you can.

At Halls Chophouse, Executive Chef Matthew Niessner has been getting his crabs from off the coast of Georgia and expects to see Carolina crabs in soon too. As for preparation, Niessner dusts the crabs with cornmeal breading and flash fries them with local tomatoes. "I like to keep it simple to let the true natural flavors of the crab shine," he says. The entrée comes with pepper jack grits and Kentucky blue lake beans ($32). The appetizer crab comes on top of field greens with fresh corn, applewood smoked bacon, and a white balsamic vinaigrette ($14).

Executive Chef Robert Carter at Peninsula Grill gives his crabs a treatment that's perfectly suited to his upscale Southern dining room. The crabs are dipped in a tempura batter made with local cornmeal and then fried. They come on a beautiful plate of pimento cheese grits with fresh local asparagus, peppers, and roasted tomato butter ($38).

If you're a fan of softshell crab sandwiches — and really, who isn't? — then Fleet Landing is where you'll want to fill up. Chef Drew Hedlund uses good old House-Autry seafood breading to coat his crab from Captain Harry in Shem Creek and serves it up on a traditional hamburger bun (sans sesame seeds) with applewood smoked bacon, shredded lettuce, and tomato with a housemade Cajun tartar sauce. "We're calling it the soft shell BLT," says sous chef Brian Barber. It costs $13.95, and they're open for lunch and brunch in addition to dinner this weekend.

Unlike most places, FIG doesn't fry their crabs. Instead they saute them in brown butter, according to Chef de Cuisine Jason Stanhope. "It retains the texture of the soft shell and lets the flavor shine," he says. The crabs, which come two to a plate, are served with kale, mustard greens, fingerling potatoes, and spring onions. For a sauce, they take the brown butter and add some capers, Meyer lemon juice, and parsley. Simple. That plate is currently $35, but Stanhope says prices should decrease as supply increases.

Husk Restaurant also has a unique preparation. Chef de Cuisine Travis Grimes says they're getting soft shells from McClellanville. "The crab is lightly dusted with finely ground flour from Anson Mills, then it's cooked in a cast iron skillet on a wood fire cook stove," he says. It comes with sweet English peas, spring onions, pea shoots, and a green garlic compound butter. It's finished off with a savory pea shoot and mint broth. The first course is priced at $14, and Husk is open for lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch.

Of course, if these options are just way too fancy for you, you can always drop into Fishnet Seafood way out Savannah Highway in Red Top. At this little seafood shack, they keep it very basic, frying up soft shells in a big old fryer right in front of you. Slap one between a couple pieces of white bread with a tomato slice and some lettuce, and you're good to go.

Brandi Ross contributed to this story.

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