The time is right for soft-shell crabs in Pittsburgh

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Their arrival was delayed a bit by a super-cold spring, but soft-shell crabs are making their way out of chilly, coastal Atlantic waters and into Pittsburgh fish markets and restaurant kitchens.

Best to enjoy them quickly, as the soft-shell-crab season -- a tasty harbinger of summer -- is short.

At Wholey’s, the olive-green crustaceans with the bright-blue claws (they’re blue crabs from Maryland’s Cheasapeake Bay) cost $7.98 each. At around 4 ounces, you’ll probably need two crabs per person, says seafood manager John McNally. They come cleaned and dressed, which is the best way to buy them if you’re squeamish about using a pair of kitchen shears to cut off something’s face. 

Soft-shell crabs from the Carolinas are currently selling at Penn Avenue Fish Co. in the Strip District for $7.99 a piece. They also come with their gills, face and back fins removed for easy cooking. At Giant Eagle Market District Shadyside and Pine, it’s $4.99 per crab.

One favorite way to prepare the seasonal dish is to dredge the crabs in seasoned flour, then pan-fry or saute them in oil or butter until they’re nice and golden brown, said Mr. McNally, who serves them with a drizzle of lemon juice on top. But you also can grill, deep-fry and broil them. 

If you’d rather let a professional do the cooking, soft-shell crabs are currently on the menu as an appetizer ($14) at East Liberty’s Spoon. They come as a BLT on toasted sourdough, with oven-roasted tomatoes, bacon, arugula and Old Bay aioli. 

Casbah in Shadyside also is offering the seafood as a seasonal appetizer ($14). Dusted in flour and fried in olive oil, they are served atop a salad of roasted sweet peppers, fava beans, capers, mint, basil and peas tossed in a sherry-based aioli. Cherry tomatoes, croutons and a chervil emulsion complete the dish. They also have a soft-shell crab sandwich.






Gretchen McKay:, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.

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