Food & Drink

Soft-Shell Crab Season: Sautéed

A lighter way to enjoy soft-shells

Photo: Margaret Houston

Jason Stanhope cooks with a light hand. And come springtime, the chef de cuisine at Charleston, South Carolina, restaurant FIG chooses to sauté soft-shells in modest puddles of medium-hot butter until just golden brown, letting the natural flavors of the crabs shine through. “We don’t even season them, because they’re pretty much seasoned by the ocean,” he says. “They take on a lot of salt in that vulnerable state.”

He keeps any accompaniments simple and seasonal. In the summertime, a sautéed crab might arrive at the table atop a fat slice of heirloom tomato. This time of year, though, you’re more likely to find peas and greens on the plate, along with a couple of ramps. Improvise your own salad, or follow the directions below for Stanhope’s seasonal mix.


  • For the crab

    • 4 tbsp. butter

    • 1 soft-shell crab

    • 2-3 whole ramps (optional)

  • Accompaniments

    • 1 spoonful pea pesto (recipe below)

    • 2 spoonfuls Greek yogurt, divided

    • 1 small handful mache greens

    • 2 pods raw green peas, shelled

    • 4-5 pea flowers

    • 1 sprig dill, torn into pieces

  • Pea Pesto

    • 1 head of garlic

    • Olive oil

    • 1 quart fresh or frozen peas

    • Zest of 1 lemon

    • 1 tbsp. sea salt, plus more to taste

    • 1 tsp. piment d'Espelette, or cayenne to taste


  1. Add butter to a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. When butter is melted and just foaming, add the crab, belly-side down. Sauté for several minutes or until the belly begins to brown. Then flip the crab and cook for several more minutes, basting regularly with melted butter. Add the ramps, if desired, and continue to spoon the butter over both the crab and the ramps for another minute before removing them from the skillet.

  2. For the pea pesto:

    Coat the entire head of garlic with olive oil, wrap it in foil, and roast it at 350 degrees until tender and sweet, about an hour. Cut the head open and squeeze out the soft garlic inside. Measure 2 tablespoons for the pesto and save the rest for another project.

  3. Blanch the fresh peas in boiling water until bright green and tender, 3-4 minutes. Then shock them immediately in ice water. Alternately, thaw your frozen peas. Drain peas, add them to a food processor with all other ingredients, and pulse until smooth. (Makes about 1 quart)

  4. To plate:

    Drizzle a spoonful of yogurt across the serving dish. Place the crab and a lump of pea pesto on top. In a separate bowl, combine the mache with the second spoonful of yogurt. Mix well, salt to taste, and drop the greens in a loose clump on the plate, overlapping the pesto. Sprinkle peas, flowers, and dill over the dish. Top with ramps.

Recipe from chef de cuisine Jason Stanhope of FIG in Charleston, South Carolina