This crispy soft-shell crab taco recipe is adapted from a version served at Paradero Hotel’s farm- and sea-to-table restaurant in the countryside outside of Todos Santos, Mexico. Executive chef and Pujol alum Eduardo Ríos riffs on the area’s regional specialty—Baja-style fried fish tacos—by quick-frying unbattered soft-shell crabs, then serving them atop his own house-made corn tortillas. Softshell blue crabs can be found cleaned and frozen or, from around April through September, live. To prepare live soft-shell crab for frying, check out our guide here.
Featured in: “The Quest to Find the Ultimate Fish Taco.”
For the sesame salsa:
- 2 large ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
- ⅓ cup distilled white vinegar
- ½ cup white sesame seeds
- Kosher salt
For the basil guacamole:
- 1 medium avocado
- 2 tsp. fresh lime juice
- 1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the tacos:
- 1 small plum tomato, cored and thinly sliced
- 1 jalapeno, stemmed, seeded, and thinly sliced
- 1 cup thinly sliced red cabbage
- 2 Tbsp. black sesame seeds
- 1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
- 1½ tsp. piquín chile powder
- 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- Canola oil, for frying
- 10 soft shell crabs, cleaned
- Ten 6-in. corn tortillas
- Fresh cilantro sprigs
- Lime coins
- Make the sesame salsa: To a small pot over medium heat, add the chiles, vinegar, and ⅓ cup cold water. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to maintain a strong simmer and cook until the chiles are soft and pliable and the smell of the vinegar dissipates, about 12–15 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
- Transfer the chiles, along with their cooking liquid, to a small food processor. Add the sesame seeds and process, adding more water as needed a tablespoon at a time to reach the consistency of a fine paste, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt, then transfer to a bowl and set aside.
- Make the basil guacamole: Clean and dry the bowl of the food processor, then add the avocado, lime juice, and basil. Process until completely smooth, then season to taste with salt and black pepper. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate while you cook the vegetables and crabs.
- In a medium bowl, toss together the tomato, jalapeño, cabbage, sesame seeds, lime juice, and piquín. Stir in the olive oil, then season to taste with salt and set aside at room temperature, tossing occasionally, until the cabbage is softened, about 10 minutes.
- Fry the crabs: Fit a heavy-bottomed pot with a deep-fry thermometer and add oil to a depth of 2 inches. Preheat the oil over medium-high heat until the temperature reaches 375°F. Meanwhile, line a baking sheet or heatproof platter with paper towels and set it by the stove.
- Working in batches and without crowding the pot, fry the crabs, turning occasionally, until crisped all over and cooked through, 2–3 minutes. Using a heat proof slotted spoon or spider skimmer, transfer to the lined baking sheet to drain while you finish cooking the rest of the crabs.
- Spread the tortilla with a dollop of the reserved basil guacamole, then top each with a generous pinch of the reserved vegetable mixture followed by a fried crab. Garnish the tacos with cilantro sprigs, and serve with the sesame salsa and lime coins on the side.
Frying the crispiest crustacean starts with a few simple steps that set you up for shellfish success.