Soft Shell Crabs are a special treat when they are in season and that comes in late Spring down the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico. This is the time when these blue-claw crabs wake up from their hibernation under the ocean floor and shed (molt) their hard shells so they can grow up and become bigger blue-claw crabs.
This must also be the time when they mate because I remember as a kid visiting my grandparents down at the Jersey shore, we would go around the docks with our nets after the first full moon in May looking for soft shell crabs and if you found one, you usually found two.
My grandmother would fry them up, slap them on some Wonder bread with a little mayo and serve them to my mom and dad. Me, I wouldn't go near them and couldn't even watch them eat these crab sandwiches with those legs dangling out from the bread. Now I find them delightful.
Buying Soft Shell Crabs
Once a blue-claw crab molts its hard shell, the soft, paper thin underneath shell will harden in just a couple of hours so fishermen catch them before they molt and stick them in tanks until they loose their hard shell. Once this happens they are shipped to fish markets around the country live.
Why their shells don't harden after they are shipped, I don't know but I guess they have to be in the water for that to happen. You want to buy them live in season or frozen out of season sometime after July.
If you ask your fishmonger where the crabs are from, he should be able to tell you what state they are coming in from. They typically come from down south in the early part of the season and work their way north.
- Soft Shell Crabs are sold to the fish markets by size. They are measured across their backs from one point to the other.
- Mediums are 3 ½ to 4 inches
- Jumbos are 5 to 5 ½ inches
- Hotels 4 to 4 ½ inches
- Whales are over 5 ½ inches
Don't Be Afraid To Make Them At Home
Lot's of folks like soft shell crabs but only order them when dining out at a restaurant because they don't want to prepare them at home. If it's the cleaning part you don't like, just let your fishmonger do it for you but if you look at this video, you'll see it is very easy to do. By the way, this my first iPhone Cooking video done at our local fish market.
Cooking soft shell crabs couldn't be easier as you'll see below but in my opinion, "Less Is More". Soft shell crabs already are sweet and briny tasting so not much has to be done. A little seasoned flour and a lot of butter. Just kidding, you don't need that much butter.
You can also deep fry soft-shelled crabs but to me why cover up those delicate, briny Crustaceans with a thick batter. Keep it simple and pan fry in a little butter to bring out all their flavor.