Soft shell crab is one of those foods that always reminds me of summer. Oh, the anticipation of that first summer trip to the beach and getting the first soft shell crab sandwich of the season in my hands! That was just part of life growing up in Maryland. Fortunately, while in Mexico I don’t have to go without my beloved soft shell blue crabs. They are a popular treat along the coasts of Mexico and easy to find in the restaurants of San Miguel de Allende.
When I read that Chesapeake Bay blue crabs are at their highest level in seven years, I was a bit jealous. We Marylanders tend to think that our state is the center of the universe for blue crab, but in reality, a lot of the crab eaten in the United States comes from much further south. Blue crabs can be found along the Atlantic coast all the way down to Argentina and the entire Gulf of Mexico. Louisiana is the largest producer of blue crabs in the US and guess where the majority of their catch is sent? to Maryland, where the appetite for crab outweighs the supply.
There are at least three species of crab fished commercially in Mexico, all members of the Callinectes genus of swimming crabs. Callinectes is Greek for “beautiful swimmer” and these crabs all have flattened hind legs that act as paddles for swimming. Our familiar Atlantic blue crab, Callinectes sapidus, is caught all along the Mexican East Coast in the Gulf of Mexico. However, most of the crab produced in Mexico comes from the Pacific Coast along the Gulf of California. The Sinaloa state itself contributes almost half of the crab in Mexico. Most of the catch is made up of the warrior crab Callinectes bellicosus and the arched crab Callinectes arcuatus. I had planned to post photos of each species, but they all looked identical to me (though I’m no marine biologist), making for a pretty boring comparison.
I have yet to see hard shell blue crabs served here, but there are plenty of soft shell crabs in San Miguel. That’s okay, because soft shell crabs have always been a very special treat. Crabs grow by molting, shedding their exoskeleton to expose a new, roomier shell underneath that expands and hardens. The fresh new shell is only soft for a few hours, so the window of opportunity is very short for harvesting a soft shell crab. The wonderful benefit to us is that we can eat nearly all of the crab. No picking, no waste, no sore fingers.
We are always looking for crab on menus. In Mexico, you will see crab referred to as either cangrejo or jaiba. What is the difference? Cangrejo is the word for “crab” and covers multiple species. Jaiba is the name specifically for blue crab. You might also see it called jaiba azul. In the soft shell form, it is jaiba de concha suave or jaiba desnuda (naked crab). Here are some of the delicious versions we have found in San Miguel.
Soft Shell Crab in San Miguel de Allende
While the sweeping view of the city is reason enough to visit the rooftop of Antonia Bistro, the food is pretty outstanding too. Chef Alejandro Cuatepotzo, from Puebla Mexico, has worked with master chefs including Enrique Olvera at Pujol in Mexico City. Three years ago, he opened his own kitchen with Antonia Bistro SMA, where he makes what is without question our favorite soft shell crab in San Miguel. The crab itself is the star of this taco, oh-so-lightly battered and sauteed, garnished with herbed mayo, dollops of avocado puree, and thinly sliced spicy Serrano chiles. Crab meat has a sweet, delicate flavor that is best appreciated with minimal seasoning. This taco gets it just right.
Antonio Bistro SMA
San Francisco 57, Centro, Zona Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, Gto., Mexico
Not even a year old yet, Tostévere has developed a loyal following and lots of great reviews, all well deserved. The menu is brief but somehow they have included most of our favorite foods. I was thrilled to see a Wrap de Jaiba Suave added to the menu. Tostévere gets their crab from Mazatlán, on Mexico’s Pacific shore in Sinaloa. The big soft shell crab is lightly battered and fried crispy, cut in half and arranged in a soft bread wrap with fresh greens, julienned zucchini, and a mild yogurt dressing. A grilled lemon to squeeze over the top is perfect.
Codo 4, Centro, Zona Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, Gto., Mexico
Bar Margaret celebrated its grand opening at the Hotel Amparo in February 2019. American born Chef Kenten Marin’s menu is a combination of Mexican alongside comfort food from the southeast United States, like Fried Chicken and Shrimp and Grits. There is a rooftop terrace for dining. However, we chose seats at the cute little cocktail bar just inside the hotel entrance, where we ordered the Soft Shell Crab BLTA sandwich from the bar menu. If I could choose anything I wanted to add to a BLT, it would be a crab. There’s a lot to love about this sandwich: a crunchy fried soft shell crab, thick bacon slices, lettuce, tomato, and avocado on toasted bread.
Mesones 3, Centro, Col. Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, Gto., Mexico
Once we had seen a photo of this taco, even a heavy downpour of rain couldn’t stop us from making our way to the rooftop bar of Atrio to try it. As with many of the items on the menu, Chef Arturo Sandoval adds an Asian touch to the Taco Baja by tempura frying the soft shell crab. It is garnished with red cabbage, pico de gallo, and a bright citrusy dressing, all wrapped in a soft flour tortilla.
Cuna de Allende 3, Zona Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, Gto., Mexico
Did we miss your favorite soft shell crab in San Miguel? Let me know! Expanding this list would make me very happy.