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  Crab Season:
  Broil 'Em!

   by Mark Bittman

  A year ago, at the start of soft-shell crab season, I made an unusually fortunate discovery in the usual way: accidentally. I had long been a fan of grilling soft-shell crabs, but mostly out of laziness. Soft-shell crabs are best sautéed, not so much for the crust they develop — most are more than a little crunchy naturally and retain their crunch no matter how you cook them — but because cooking in a pan helps retain at least some of their flavorful juices. Still, it makes an awful mess. First, you need at least eight soft-shells for four people, so two big pans are in order. More inconvenient, soft-shell crabs are notorious spatterers, so the cleanup time is longer than the cooking time.

  That endless cleanup is why, when I learned how to grill soft-shells 20 years ago, it became my method of choice. You can cook two dozen crabs at once on a large grill, there is no cleanup, and the crabs, like almost everything else, taste great when grilled. Of course, there is a compromise involved: as the crabs exude their juices, the source of the spattering in stove-top cooking, those juices drip onto the fire and are gone forever. But the crabs shrivel and dry out a bit, and their small legs inevitably become charred. To compensate, I usually basted the grilling crabs with liquid, usually a mixture of butter, lemon and Tabasco. (By the way, I don't want to denigrate this technique. It will remain in my repertory.)

  Then there's the weather: it's difficult, and unpleasant, to grill in the inevitable spring rain. So last year, when the crabs started arriving, and I prepared to grill them, and it began raining, I did what I usually do when I can't grill: I broiled. And I discovered that this simple alternative solved the problems inherent in both sautéing and grilling. The crabs did not spatter (or if they did, I didn't notice), and they remained plump and juicy. A sprinkle of salt, a drizzle of lemon (some olive oil is nice, but not necessary), and that was that.

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