Early summer brings soft shelled crab
Once again I have lucked into some mighty fine tastiness. This time, its soft shell crabs. It’s is almost like cheating to eat soft shells. Vulnerable shells that let me eat all the crab with none of the work! Due to the evolution of the world wide market place, soft shells are available year round. If you are eating soft shells in fall or winter they are probably imported and surely can not be as fresh or are frozen. In general, American soft shelled Blue crabs are available from early May to July. This is especially true in the Chesapeake Bay area. In the Gulf of Mexico the season runs longer. The crabs molt throughout the year but it is less often, and less common, making it less profitable to harvest.
Usually crabs must be eaten within four days of molting to be useful as soft-shell crabs. They begin to rebuild their shells after that begin to form a thin shell. Thin shelled crabs are often referred to as “papershells” or “tinbacks” and are more crunchy when eaten. This whole process is closely monitored by the fisherman who harvest the crabs. They watch the molting to be sure it is finished before whisking the crabs off to restaurants and stores. Obviously fresh is best, but frozen ones can be found. Fresh frozen is the next best option, frozen immediately after catch and cleaning. In general, if I can’t get it fresh then I probably shouldn’t be eating it (unless I have stored it myself). That just means it has traveled further. I try to eat local and seasonal.
To prep the fresh soft shells, arm yourself with a sturdy pair of kitchen shears and a little emotional will power. Start by snipping off the face and eyes. Cut across the body just behind the eyes. This swiftly snuffs the crab. Then trim the gills from the body . Lastly, snip off the bib or butt by pulling it back and away from the body and cutting it from the body.
To cook the crabs I highly recommend frying them. This is classic and you just can’t go wrong. The fried crabs are excellent as is, in sushi, a top of salad, or stuffed into a roll. If you hate to fry then I recommend grilling or sauteing. They do not need to be cooked long and do best with dry heat to make the ‘shells’ crispy, I recommend against steaming and boiling.
The crabs are appropriate to eat by hand, or with a fork and knife but I love mine on a roll with a side of slaw.
- 1 soft shell crab per sandwich
- portuguese or other favorite sturdy sandwich roll, split and toasted
- bacon, thin and crispy is my preference here
- lettuce, spicy greens if you have them or whatever green leaf is handy
- tomato, thick slices
- tartar or spicy remoulade sauce
How to fry a soft shell crab:
Prepare a bowl with heavily seasoned flour. I use approx 1c flour + 2-3Tbs Old Bay, cayenne & black pepper.
Pat dry, cleaned crabs. dredge crabs in seasoning and carefully place into hot oil.
Be careful! Crab oil will splatter and pop. Fry for 5-6 minutes flipping halfway for optimum color. Let rest on paper towel.
Pull off a bit of hot tender goodness to sample. Yum….