My first experience with soft shell crabs took place on a trip to Venice many, many years ago. Although I initially felt a little nervous eating them as they kind of look like spiders, after that very first bite I understood why they are so treasured. Throughout the years, whenever we are in Venice, and they are in season, I must order them, and they are always as delicious as I remember.
The soft shell crabs of Venice are truly tiny little mussels of goodness. Although they do have soft shell crabs in the United States as well as elsewhere in the world, the little ones found in Venice are unique. In Venice, they are referred to as moleche, moeche, or moeca in Venetian dialect and are available twice a year, in the fall and spring. The moleche fishermen of Venice (molecanti) are experts as they must be very aware of the molting process of the crabs. Raising crabs is a local activity, and this skill is passed down from generation to generation. Although molecule are caught in Burano and on the Giudecca the crab farmers of Chioggia are the most well known. The crabs are captured by placing nets with funnel-shaped traps in the waters at the beginning of the season, and the fishermen separate the crabs from the fish and bring them back to big warehouses where they select the crabs that are about to undergo their seasonal change and place them in a tub. There is only a very brief period in which the shells are soft enough to eat, as continued contact with water will harden them in a matter of hours.
We recently visited Venice and were lucky enough to catch the very end of the moleche season. We dined at the restaurant Al Covo, and enjoyed plates of crispy moleche as our second course. We always bring home a cooler of fresh seafood from the fish market in Venice, and on this trip, we were able to find a fish monger still selling end of the season soft shell crabs, so we were able to bring some back home to Umbria with us. Because of their limited availability, they are quite expensive, but due to their richness, a small portion is sufficient. I’ve always firmly believed that any fresh, quality ingredient in the kitchen should be handled with respect and not messed with too much and this is particularly true of these tender little crabs. I simply dusted my moleche with a little-seasoned flour, and pan fried them in a mixture of butter and olive oil until golden brown.
If using the larger soft shell crabs found in North America, they will require some trimming, so ask your fish monger to do this for you. The tiny crabs found around Venice can be cooked without any additional preparation.
Moleche at Al Covo Resturant in Venice.
Moleche At The Venice Seafood Market.
Deborah Mele 2017
Moleche ~ Fried Soft Shell Crabs
- 12 Live Moleche
- 1 Cup All-purpose Flour
- Salt & Pepper
- 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 3 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
- Lemon Wedges
- Place the flour, salt and pepper in a plastic bag.
- In a heavy frying pan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat until bubbly.
- Fry the crabs in three batches, browning well on each side.
- Place the cooked crabs on a paper lined plate and continue to cook all of the crabs.
- Serve hot with lemon wedges.