Soft shell crab


I spent part of my youth living in Vancouver. On Saturday mornings, my mom and I would often head down to the Steveston docks where the fishermen sold their catch. Among the many wonderful things we’d bring home were long, gangly Alaskan king crab legs that we steamed and ate like lobster with drawn garlic butter. Other times we got saucer-shaped Dungeness crabs that we steamed and shelled before forming the meat into crab cakes that we pan-fried and served with tartar sauce. Delish!

Despite my love of crab, until last weekend I had never tasted soft shell crab. Martin brought some home to serve at a dinner party we hosted and I couldn’t believe how easy they were to prepare – no shells to crack, no cut fingers, no splashy juices on the cupboards!

Here’s what Martin did:

He snipped off the front of each crab behind the eyes. Then he dipped each one into beaten egg before dredging it in flour and seasoning with salt and pepper. Then he tossed the crabs into a shallow pool of canola oil, heated almost until it was smoking. He browned the crabs on both sides and we ate them – shells, guts and all – with sliced watermelon. Easiest. Appetizer. Ever!

Since our party, I’ve done a little investigating and I can tell you a few more facts about soft shell crab:

  • They are usually blue crabs and the season lasts from May to July.
  • As the crabs grow larger at this time of year, their shells cannot expand so they molt their exterior and have a soft covering for a few days as their new shell develops; that’s why you can eat them whole.
  • The best soft shell crab comes from Chesapeake Bay but there are edible soft shell crabs in the Gulf of Mexico, too.
  • The crabs should be kept alive until cooking so buy them packed in straw covered ice so that they are very cold but never frozen.

Although it didn’t bother most of us to eat the entire soft shell crab, eating them innards and all freaked two of our guests out. And I can imagine that some of you are grossed out that we cut into them while still alive. Are we barbarians? Or, could you prepare and eat a soft shell crab, too?

PS: If you’re hungry for more info about soft shell crabs, you can check out this story in last week’s Washington Post; however, you may need a subscription to view it.


12 Responses to Soft shell crab

  1. Beth says:

    I don’t know about eating the insides but I’d be up for snacking on the extremities.

  2. Barb says:

    I admit I have a bit of a problem with the cutting while alive part. I am getting more and more sensitive to that every year. One part of me is anxious to try a soft shell crab and another part of me just can’t do it.

  3. The best soft shells I ever had were served by a small restaurant in downtown Baltimore. They were simply pan fried in butter and herbs—no breading, which is usually added to add bulk.

  4. danamccauley says:

    According to my peeps at MacGregor’s Seafood, the season for soft shells is closing today! But, the good news is that they molt again at the end of summer.

    Here’s a tweet from them to me about availability:

    pFvK @DanaMcCauley Chesapeake only closed for 2 weeks. Blue Crabs will molt 2/year.More July/Aug.Gulf a long way for a live soft-shell to travel

  5. Natashya says:

    I don’t know. I am a bit of a wimp. Maybe I’ll just come over to your house for dinner.. purely for research purposes, of course. 🙂

  6. danamccauley says:

    Ha! I’m impressed at what you’ll do for research purposes. You are truly a devoted blogger!

  7. cheryl says:

    I’ve only eaten soft-shelled crabs once and I didn’t get what all the full was about, but since I can’t remember where or when I had them, it’s probably time for me to try them again. All the foodies I know really adore them.

    As for the cutting while alive part, I think I’d be okay, but I’d have to have the knife in my hand and be looking at my dinner before I’d really know for sure.

  8. I’m a wimp too. Couldn’t cut the crab while it’s alive.

    I don’t think I’ve ever had soft-shelled crab, only hard-shelled. While I adore crab I rarely eat it because of cost.

  9. jen boda says:

    Soft shelled crab is my absolute favorite. I was first introduced to it while living on the Oregon coast. Thanks so much for profiling this tasty beast!


  10. danamccauley says:

    They are very tasty beasts indeed!

    Char – if I made one for you could you eat it? I used to be that way with lobster: as long as I didn’t kill it myself I was good to go. If I killed it myself, it was harder to get the fork to my lips….until after the first glass of wine!

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