James Bond enjoys a plate of soft-shell crabs, served with tartare sauce, in Live and Let Die, not long after arriving in New York and checking into the St Regis Hotel. Soft-shell crabs are typically blue crabs caught immediately after moulting. In the US, the blue crab season runs from April to September (which, if Bond’s crabs are caught fresh, should tell us approximately when Bond’s second adventure begins, although the chronology provided by John Griswold places events in January and February). Frozen crabs are of course available all-year round. Once cleaned (the gills removed, the ‘apron’ cut out etc), the entire crab is edible, shell, legs and all. Soft-shell crabs are best cooked simply. In my recipe, I dust the crabs in flour and shallow fry them. Tartare sauce is usually made from mayonnaise, but here, as an alternative, I use a hollandaise base. The sauce can be prepared in advance.
Recipe (serves two)
- 4 soft-shell crabs, cleaned
- Seasoned plain flour
- Oil for frying
For the sauce
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp water
- 100g unsalted butter, cut into chunks
- 1 tsp finely-chopped parsley
- 1 tsp finely-chopped capers
- 1 tsp finely-chopped gherkins
First, prepare the sauce. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Turn the heat to the lowest setting or switch off altogether so that there are no bubbles, only steam, emanating from the water. Put the yolks, lemon juice and the tablespoon of water into a bowl and place the bowl on top of the saucepan. Whisk the ingredients until the sauce become smooth and creamy. Add the butter a piece at a time, whisking each piece until it is fully absorbed into the sauce before adding the next piece. Continue whisking until all the butter is absorbed and the sauce has thickened. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and allow the sauce to cool in the refrigerator. Once the sauce has cooled, stir in the parsley, capers and gherkins and return the sauce to the refrigerator.
Pat the crabs dry. Heat some cooking oil in a frying pan, using enough oil to cover the base. Roll the crabs in the seasoned flour, then place each crab in the pan, top side down. Fry the crabs for 3-4 minutes, then turn them over and continue frying for another 3-4 minutes. Transfer the crabs to plates and spoon a generous helping of tartare sauce on the side.