by Steven Doyle
If you like eating crabs, then you will absolutely adore the soft shell crab.
Maryland is famous for its many fresh seafood varieties such as blue crab, oysters and fish. Arguably the most delicious variety of them all, however, is the soft shell crab.
So what’s the difference between a regular crab and a soft shell crab, you ask? A soft shell crab is essentially a crab that has outgrown the size of its hard shell and thus shed its exterior layer by a process called molting. Molting consists of a soft shell being formed underneath a crab’s hard shell.
John Tesar offers up his tempura battered softie at Knife
Parigi on Oak Lawn has a lovely example
During molting, the crab’s body swells with water so as to crack its outer, rigid shell and to liberate itself to continue growing. Once the crab has stepped out of its original shell, it begins to create a new, larger shell. This process of creating a new shell can take a matter of days, during which the crab’s body is left soft and vulnerable.
It is during this period of vulnerability that crab fisherman catch beautifully delicious soft shell crabs. In the United States, blue crabs typically comprise the majority of soft shell crabs. Sizes can range from Boat Runs (3-4 inches), Hotels (4-4.5 inches), Primes (4.5-5 inches), Jumbos (5-5.5 inches) to Whales (5.5 inches and up).
Trulucks never disappoints when it comes to crab (or anything for that matter)
Lavendou’s hard core and very French entree
Soft shell crab season runs from late spring to the start of fall. The months during which soft shell crabs are most abundant goes from May through September, inclusive.
While it might sound obvious, the main advantage of eating soft shell crabs over regular, hard-shelled crabs is that the former are softer and thus easier to eat. Rather than struggle to extract tiny pieces of crab meat from a traditional crab shell, you can enjoy every last bite of crab meat by consuming the whole soft shell crab.
Republic’s tasty soft shell
Rapscallion’s soft shell
Chef AQ at Jose prepares her blue corn taco with soft shells
We have love Asian Mint’s 15 year old send up to the crab
Lovers Seafood has this amazing soft shell with a Meyer lemon remoulade
If you you care to make at soft shells home here’s a quick guide on how to prepare your crabs for cooking. Note that it’s a best practice to buy soft shell crabs on the day you intend to cook them, if possible.
- Rinse soft shell crabs under cold water to remove excess dirt
- If you need to remove the crab’s face, use a knife or scissors to slice behind its mouth and across so as to shave off a strip
- To remove the gills from underneath the top shell, lift a corner of the shell and rip out the beige-colored gills at the base on each side of the shell
- Flip over the crab and remove what is called the “apron”, a long flap that is thin for males and wide for females, by peeling it off.
- Shallow fry for ultimate pleasure.
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