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Preparing Soft-Shell Crab

Yes, you have to kill it -- but that's part of the ceremony. And it tastes oh, so good...

Soft-shell crab is one of the last live animals you'll find in a grocery store. These days, the animals we purchase are dead and butchered, no longer resembling the wild beasts they once were.

Soft-shells come a-wriggling, fresh and lively. Unlike lobsters, which can be tossed into a steam bath straight from the store, these crabs require a bit of prep. As a result, too many home cooks pass up the opportunity to cook them at home.

But luckily, preparing a soft-shell crab is simpler than mincing an onion; you don't even need a knife to do it.

The first thing you want to do is kill the crab. (After all, it's more humane to butcher a dead animal than a live one.)

Turn the crab on his or her back. This is where I take a moment to thank the crab for becoming my dinner. It's hokey, but it makes me feel better about what comes next.

While the crab is belly-up, take a moment to note the sex. This has nothing to do with killing it, but it will impress your friends. Male crabs have a flap the shape of the Washington monument, while she-crab's flaps are round.

Whatever the gender, take an ice pick to the right topmost part of the genitalia and insert. This will lead to even more wriggling, which can last for another 10 minutes. Don't let the involuntary muscle action upset you; this crab is dead.

Next, pull the flap down, and use a scissor to snip off any gray matter you find. You can snip off the whole flap if you like, but it's tasty, so I prefer to leave it on.

Then turn the crab on its belly and snip off his or her face. Remove 1/4-inch of the crab's visage, including the eyes.

Next, flip up each side of the shell. Here you'll find the feathery lungs; cut them off and discard.

That's it -- from live wriggly thing to dead prepped crab in three easy steps.

From here, the best way to cook the crab is to pan-fry it in a cast iron skillet in at least 1/4-inch of cooking oil. If you use less fat than that, the crab won't be submerged, and will be undercooked in the center by the time the crust is golden.

And lastly, though I love trimming unnecessary steps from recipes, this one can't be cut: You've got to coat the crab.

The coating actually doubles the amount of crisp crab flavor in the dish, so it's worth the five minutes it takes to do it. Think about it like this: Since you didn't have to wrestle the crab from her shell, the least you can do is hand her a coat.

Crispy Soft-shell Crab Sandwiches

Serves 4

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For Crabs:

Vegetable or canola oil, for frying

1 cup flour

1 1/2 cups Panko breadcrumbs

2 eggs, lightly scrambled with 1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce (optional)

4 prepared soft-shell crabs

1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For Sandwiches:

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon adobo sauce (from a can of chipotles) (optional)

8 slices potato bread, toasted

2 plum tomatoes, sliced

4 leaves green leaf lettuce

Additional kosher salt and Old Bay seasoning, if desired

In a 10-inch cast iron skillet, heat 1/4 teaspoon of oil to 350 degrees F.

Place flour and breadcrumbs in two separate shallow dishes, and eggs in a shallow bowl. Sprinkle crabs on both sides with Old Bay and salt. Coat crabs with flour, tapping off excess, then egg, and finally breadcrumbs.

Add prepared crabs, two at a time, to the oil. Cover with a splatter screen. Cook, until golden, turning once, about 7 to 10 minutes total. Remove and drain crabs.

To assemble sandwiches: Combine mayonnaise with adobo sauce, if desired; stir well. Coat toasted bread with spicy mayonnaise. Assemble sandwiches with lettuce, tomato and crab; season to taste. Enjoy warm.

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