Sautéed Soft-Shell Crabs With Lemon-Butter Pan Sauce Recipe

These crispy, plump, and briny soft-shell crabs are topped with a quick lemon–brown butter pan sauce with capers and parsley.

Vicky Wasik

Why This Recipe Works

  • A light flour dredging creates a pleasingly crunchy crust on the crabs without weighing them down.
  • Adding lemon juice to the brown-butter sauce balances the flavor and prevents the butter from over-browning.

From May through September, blue crabs shed their hard shells as part of their growing process. When caught before the new shell hardens, they're the delicacy known as soft-shell crabs. There's very little of a soft-shell crab that you can't eat, though there are a few bits that should go before you fry them up (consult our guide to cleaning soft-shell crabs for more on that, or ask your fishmonger to do it for you).

While there are many ways to prepare soft-shells (battered and fried are pretty killer), at home I prefer to quickly sauté them in butter after lightly dredging them. The faster I can get a fresh soft-shell onto my plate, the better. I've tested cornstarch and flour dredging, and both have their advantages. Cornstarch makes a light and crispy coating, but I opted for flour in this recipe since it gives the crabs a crunchier exterior and a more robust flavor that pairs really well with the browned butter in the pan sauce that goes on top.

As for that pan sauce, it's just browned butter, some frizzled capers, lemon juice, and parsley—a perfect topper to plump, juicy, and briny soft-shell crabs. For students of French cuisine, this sauce is more or less a grenobloise (which is itself meunière sauce with the addition of capers). Those French names may sound fancy, but the sauce is dead simple to make.

Recipe Details

Sautéed Soft-Shell Crabs With Lemon-Butter Pan Sauce Recipe

Prep 5 mins
Cook 15 mins
Active 20 mins
Total 20 mins
Serves 2 servings

These crispy, plump, and briny soft-shell crabs are topped with a quick lemon–brown butter pan sauce with capers and parsley.


  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 4 large soft-shell crabs, preferably jumbo or “whale” size, cleaned

  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons; 120g) unsalted butter, divided

  • 1 tablespoon drained capers

  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) fresh lemon juice from one lemon

  • 1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley leaves and tender stems


  1. In a shallow bowl, season flour with salt and pepper. Lightly dredge crabs in the seasoned flour.

  2. In a 10-inch stainless steel skillet, melt 4 tablespoons (60g) butter over medium-high heat until foamy. Add crabs, shell-side down, and cook until browned and crisp, about 3 minutes; be careful, as soft-shell crabs sometimes pop in the pan. Flip crabs and cook until crisp and golden on bottom side, about 3 minutes. Transfer crabs to paper towel-lined plates and season lightly with salt.

  3. Add remaining 4 tablespoons (60g) butter to the skillet and melt until foaming. Lower heat to medium and cook until the butter turns a medium-brown color, about 2 minutes.

  4. Add capers and cook until lightly crisped, about 1 minute. Add lemon juice, swirl to combine, and remove from heat.

  5. Stir parsley into pan sauce, season with salt, if needed. Transfer crabs to a serving platter and spoon sauce on top. Serve right away.


Special Equipment

10-inch stainless steel skillet

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
704 Calories
51g Fat
13g Carbs
48g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 2
Amount per serving
Calories 704
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 51g 65%
Saturated Fat 31g 154%
Cholesterol 376mg 125%
Sodium 1274mg 55%
Total Carbohydrate 13g 5%
Dietary Fiber 1g 2%
Total Sugars 0g
Protein 48g
Vitamin C 17mg 85%
Calcium 254mg 20%
Iron 2mg 12%
Potassium 720mg 15%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)