Friends, we’re now in soft shell crab season, which typically runs late April through September. The season seems to have started late this year, but with the weird weather all over the country, that’s not surprising.
Soft Shell Crab Primer:
Just what are soft shell crabs you ask? Soft shells are Blue Crabs which have molted their hard shell to grow a larger one. This phase only lasts a few days until the new shell hardens. During the “soft shell” phase the entire crab can be eaten, “shell” and all. Blue Crabs, with their blue tinged claws (hence the name), are found on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and are very popular in Maryland. In the soft shell phase they are most commonly fried, sautéed or tempura battered.If possible, buy soft shell crabs still alive. If you are only able to find ones which have been cleaned, then make sure they were cleaned that day and that you consume them within 48 hours.
Live soft shells are often packed and shipped in layers of straw. If you need to store them live in the refrigerator, keep them in a container between layers of damp straw or paper towels. Do not put them in an airtight container or they may die. If you are not going to cook them within 24 hours of buying them live, then it may be best to clean them in advance. Live crabs may die within 24 hours in the refrigerator and once they die, enzymes in the body will cause them to begin to break down and quickly go bad.
Soft shell crabs come in five sizes.
- Medium- about 2 ounces and 3 ½- 4” across the widest part of the top shell..
- Hotels- 2 ½ ounces and 4- 4 ½”across
- Primes- 3 ounces and 4 ½ -5” across
- Jumbos – 4 ½ ounces and 5 -5 ½” across
- Whalers – about 6 ounces and 5 1/2 to 6” across
How To Clean Live Soft Shell Crabs:
If you buy live crabs, you will need to clean them before cooking them. The easiest way is with a pair of sharp cooking shears:
- Rinse the crabs in cold water and pat dry.
- Hold the crab in one hand with the front of the crab facing away from your hand. Use the kitchen shears to cut of the first ½” of the crab where the mouth and eyes are.
- Lift up the pointed edges of the top shell and using your fingers, pull out the gills on both the right and left side of the crab.
- Turn the crab over and using the kitchen shears, cut off the “apron”, the flap on the bottom on the crab. The apron is pointed on male crabs and rounded on females.
- Rinse again and pat dry.
Once the crabs are cleaned, cook immediately or keep refrigerated for no more than 48 hours.