Spring begins with soft-shell crabs at Mustard Greens

Crisply fried soft-shell crabs from Mustard Greens are a sure sign of summer coming.

Of all the many signs of spring to land on our tables — ramps, fiddlehead ferns, sweet green peas, and morels — I especially look forward to soft-shell crabs, because they mean summer can’t be far behind.

Lots of restaurants cook soft-shells, but few do them with the simple perfection of Mustard Greens, Bon Siu’s Queen Village classic for delicate modern takes on Chinese cuisine, where they’ve been a menu addition in season for 26 years. “I’m always the first to have them, so the seafood vendors know to look for me when they’re in,” says Siu, who began serving them in late April.

Siu’s soft-shell secret is a light touch that lets those crustaceans sing. An airy batter of egg and cornstarch clings just enough to lend a sheer and toasty bubble of crunch with minimal seasoning so you can taste the juicy sweetness of the white meat just beneath. A tart dip of red rice vinegar jazzed with ginger, scallions, and chili flakes adds a subtle Asian accent. Prices will vary over the course of the season, as Siu insists on fresh (never-frozen!) whale-size crabs. But they’re worth it and should be running as a Mustard Greens special well into July — and later if we’re lucky. — Craig LaBan

Soft-shell crab entrees, $25-$30 (market price while in season), Mustard Greens, 622 S. Second St., 215-627-0833; mustardgreensphilly.com