COOK } Soft Shell Crabs, Simply Sautéed

I caught my first soft shell crab on the Eastern Shore a few weekends ago. Just in time for lunch.

The molting beauty, above, wiggled his way into our trap, lusting after some chicken necks. And there he sat, looking rather unruffled next to his feisty hard shelled compatriots.

I've eaten more than my share of soft shells, but I hadn't ever actually killed one. Buying them already cleaned is mighty convenient, but nothing could be fresher than a crab just plucked from the water.

I recalled chef Todd Gray of Equinox showing how to clean soft shells a few years ago. And I did what any resourceful but uncertain cook does, Googled just to be sure I was going about it right. Here's Chow's handy video.

Deed done, I dusted the plump crab in a light coating of flour seasoned with salt and pepper, and into a hot pan with sizzling butter he went. About 4 minutes per side is all you need. From water to plate in barely 20 minutes. That was bliss.

A few years ago, I ranted about over-battered, deep fried soft shells proliferating on restaurant menus. I still don't understand why you'd want to mask the plump, slightly briny meat, encased in that ever-so-slight snap of the softened shell. The method above is the way to go if you ask me.

LEARN  }  If you want your own soft shell cooking lesson, BLT Steak's Jon Mathieson is hosting a class Saturday, Aug. 18 from 12:30 p.m. - 3 p.m. Guests will learn to clean and prep the crabs and cook a variety of recipes. A four-course lunch follows. The class is $100 per person. Call Lindsey Greenbaum at 202.689.8989 to reserve.