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Soft Shell Crab Piccata Plus How To Clean Soft Shell Crabs

Soft Shell Crab Picatta
Soft Shell Crab Picatta

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 that 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.

Live Soft Shell Crabs

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:


  1. Rinse the crabs in cold water and pat dry.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Rinse again and pat dry.

Once the crabs are cleaned, cook immediately or keep refrigerated for no more than 48 hours.

Soft Shell Crab Piccata Plus How To Clean Soft Shell Crabs

A recipe for Soft Shell Crab Piccata Plus Instructions on How To Clean Soft Shell Crabs
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Total Time20 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American, Mediterranean
Keyword: crab
Servings: 2 each


  • 4 each Jumbo soft shell crabs cleaned
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon each kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter divided 1 Tbl/ 2 Tbl
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice 1 fresh lemon
  • 2 oz white wine
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 2 tablespoons parsley


  • Heat oven to low (about 200 degrees) and have an oven safe plate or pan ready.
  • Start with cleaned soft shell crabs. Spread the flour in a shallow bowl or on a plate and season with salt and pepper. Dredge both sides of each crab in the flour. Shake off any excess flour and set on a clean plate.
  • Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat and add the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter. Let the butter melt and swirl into the oil. Place the crabs in the pan, top shell side down. Cook for about 3 minutes. Turn the crabs over and cover the pan. Cook for another 2-3 minutes until the crabs turn pink.
  • Remove the crabs from the pan and place on an oven proof plate. Put the plate in the oven while making the sauce.
  • Turn up the heat under the sauté pan to medium high and add the white wine to deglaze the pan. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the lemon juice and allow the liquid in the pan to reduce by half. Add the capers and remaining two tablespoons of butter and swirl the butter to emulsify the sauce. Sprinkle in the chopped parsley and turn off the heat under the pan.
  • Remove the crabs from the oven and place on serving plates. Spoon the sauce over the crabs and sprinkle with parsley to garnish.


One Comment

  • Suzanne Smith

    This was my mother’s favorite thing to eat in Maryland. She only got to do it once a year, since the season is so short. I’ve had them once or twice, but I’m bothered by them for some reason (hypocritical, I know, since I have no problem with parts from other animals). I’d never considered making them myself – thanks for the primer.

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