A few months ago, Mark Bittman published, in his weekly New York Times food column, an article about Pasta with Soft Shell Crab. I got really excited when I saw this recipe as I had just seen soft shall crabs at the San Francisco Fish Company in the Ferry Terminal Market and had wanted to figure out a way to cook them; thanks Mark Bittman!
The next week, I went ahead and bought the little guys, four as the recipe suggested. I was told at the fish counter that I shouldn't clean them until right before I cooked them as they would loose water and was then demonstrated how to clean the crabbies. The process involves cutting off their eyes, pulling out their lungs (really gills, but they were referenced as lungs at the time), and then snapping off their tails (called an apron, technically). Right as I was leaving, the guy at the fish counter proudly showed me that the four crabs I had just purchased were still alive, as demonstrated by the foaming liquid near their mouths. At first glance, this fact illustrated the crab's freshness, it was, in fact, foreboding of the upcoming crab cleaning.
Later that day, when I brought the crabs out of the refrigerator to prepare for cooking, I placed them on a plate for about twenty minutes. During this time, the crabs warmed up and began to wake up, so to speak. When I picked the first one up, the claws and legs began to move around. Oh god. I then brought my scissors to the eyes of the crab, as instructed earlier at the Fish Market, avoiding the now moving appendages. After I snipped the eyes, however, the crabs claws and legs continued to move. At this point I, embarrassingly, shrieked. I was now going to have to pull out the lungs of a moving creature. And so I did, after some squeamish moments and thoughts of calling off dinner.
I eventually got through the cleaning of all four crabs and cooked one my most favorite meals ever. The soft, creamy texture of the crab meat coupled with the crunch of the shell is pretty darn sexy while the pasta brilliantly absorbs the excess olive oil and garlic infused juices of the soft shell crab. Beyond the tastiness of the final product, however, I found the experience of cleaning the crabs to be a significant one; understanding where your meat comes from is important knowledge but also being accountable for killing your proteins feels, well, responsible.
Here's a not so great picture of the final product: