If you’re driving down the “main drag” here on the Eastern Shore of Virginia (aka Route 13), one of the best things you can do for yourself is to turn off the beaten path. All roads lead to the water eventually – seaside or bayside. It doesn’t matter. Chances are you’ll stumble on a seafood shack in your travels. And this time of year, they’re all sure to have fresh soft shell crabs. A delicacy here, as well as around the world.
My favorite spot is Martin’s Crabhouse in Saxis, VA. It’s about a 20 minute drive for me on Chincoteague, but when it comes to crabs – it’s always worth the trip. You’ll usually find two old salts sitting on the front porch of the crab shack, no doubt talking about fish tales. One of the younger guys inside will shuffle over to the peeling tables and fish out a dozen for me – wriggling as they’re pulled out of the water and placed in the box. It really doesn’t get fresher than that.
Up until last week, breading and pan-frying was my go-to prepare a soft shell crab. But, after putting them on the grill…I fear I can never go back. First off, it was easier and way less mess. Always a win! But the flavor. THE FLAVOR. Sweet, tender crab with a heady dose of smokiness from the grill. I brushed with fresh garlic herb butter while cooking, which helped them to not stick to the grill – as well as impart more wonderful flavor. A few minutes on the grill, and they plump up to pure perfection.
I wanted to pair them with pasta, so I made a quick scampi sauce using the usual suspects – butter, garlic, lemon, white wine. And, a few cherry tomatoes and basil for a little extra flair and color. Was just enough to make the pasta moist, and paired perfectly with the crab – just making it’s flavors sing a little louder.
Move over, Shrimp Scampi. There’s a new kid on the block…
Grilled Soft-Shell Scampi
10 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 cup salted butter (2 sticks)
3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 large lemons
4 large (prime or jumbo) soft-shell crabs, cleaned and prepped
16 oz fettuccine pasta
1 1/2 cups dry white wine (like Chardonnay)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
10 leaves fresh basil, chiffonnaded
Fresh ground pepper
Fill a large stockpot with water and 1/4 cup kosher salt and bring to boil over high heat. Prepare pasta according to.ditections on package (or make your own!)
Prepare the garlic butter for basting. Melt a stick of butter in a small saucepan. Slice one of the lemons, and add 2 or 3 slices to the melted butter, as well as the half (1 Tbsp) of the minced garlic, thyme, and rosemary. Let cook for one minute to release flavors, then remove from heat and set aside.
Heat a grill to medium-high. Season crabs with a pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil on both sides. Place on grill, and cook for about 6 minutes on each side – basting with the garlic butter while cooking.
Make the scampi sauce by melting the other stick of butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the remaining garlic, cherry tomatoes, white wine, and the juice of the other lemon. Increase heat to high, and let reduce for about 5 minutes. Stir in half of the fresh basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
Place a pile of pasta on a large plate. Place a grilled soft shell on top, then pour about 1/2 cup of the scampi sauce on top. Garnish with fresh basil, and the remaining lemon slices.