Soft-shell crabs: Scary, perhaps, delicious for sure

I admit to a certain perverse pleasure in serving unsuspecting guests some weird, eyebrow-raising foods on occasion, and especially delight when their initial touch of horror turns to love at first bite - usually.

Sauted Calves' Brains in Black Butter with Capers, jellied eel, ostrich burgers, skate wings, monkfish liver, and soft-shell crabs are a few of my surprise horror entres. I figure if you've eaten Kraft Velveeta and are still on your feet, there's nothing to fear.

I draw the line at serving tripe, which, I understand, is considered a capital offense in some Midwestern states. As it should be.

Soft-shell crabs are among my favorite shock foods, and one of the most interesting, easy to prepare, and delicious.

To the uninitiated, a plateful of the little beasties lying on their backs with their pointy legs in the air looks like something you'd be more inclined to squish than to swallow.

But one nibble of those crunchy, nutty-sweet, juicy little gams, and you're certain to be another convert. And yes, once they are properly dressed and cleaned, you do eat the whole crab; shell, legs, and all.

This is soft-shell crab season; a perfect time to spring them on your friends. Somewhat of a novelty outside the Chesapeake Bay area a few years ago, they are now generally available around the country while they are in season.

Available frozen throughout the year, you can now purchase them fresh, sometimes even alive.

Late spring is when blue crabs, groggy from winter hibernation, awaken and begin feeding, forcing them to burst out of their armored shells. Watermen gather wild crabs and place them in holding cages and pull them when they burst from their out-grown shells.

Once out of the water, their new shells don't harden, and when cooked, the whole crab is edible.

Look for them in the fresh fish section of your supermarket, or e-mail the John T. Handy Co. at

softcrb@ibm.net. Order online at:www.new, jerseyshellfish.com, www.shrimp.cc/crab2.htm or www.nextdayseafood.com.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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