Soft shell crab season is in full swing here on the coast of NC. They’re possibly my favorite seafood, but I can’t really choose a favorite. I love ALL seafood.
“Soft shell” simply means the crab has molted and the shell is still soft. Fishermen will place the crabs in a cold environment, keeping them dormant so that their shells take longer to harden than normal.
The first time I tried my hand at frying up soft shell crabs, I screwed up. BIG TIME. After calling my Mom (about to cry) I figured out that my oil wasn’t hot enough and they were all soggy. I ate them anyway.
My local seafood market is Blue Ocean Market in Morehead City, NC. Their seafood is always fresh and LOCAL. They know me by name and Eric even helps me figure out what I’m going to cook for dinner that night. Most times I don’t even know what seafood I want to buy when I go in the market. Eric is a chef and has some mad cooking skills.
I recently asked if they would show me how to clean soft shell crabs. I went in for my little tutorial and suddenly realized why I’ve always purchased these little critters already cleaned: they’re freakin’ alive and moving. I just can’t do it, but I love to cook and eat ‘em. I watched the process and it didn’t break my heart too bad; it was quick. But I’ll definitely continue to purchase them already cleaned for sure.
Eric showed me the difference between male and female soft shell crabs. Once you look, it’s kinda obvious, but it’s something I’ve never thought of.
The crab is positioned for cutting–the blue lines show what needs to be cut first. Cut the face first (this kills the crab), then the tail (apron) using a sharp knife or kitchen shears. The apron will look different for males and females.
Pull the “points” back on the top of the shell and remove the lungs or “gills” from each side; they have a feathery texture.
Squeeze the “mustard” (fat) out of each tip.
Peel the shell back and remove the organs (I’ve read that some people don’t do this part and it is personal preference). What you see in the above picture is the female ovaries. I choose not to eat those :-|.
Rinse the crabs good to remove any remaining “mustard” (fat).
This was the easy part for me…frying up these little critters. :-) This is how I’ve always done it and it’s really simple. I mix House Autry Seafood Breader with a little Old Bay Seasoning in a large bowl. Some people prefer to shake it in a baggy. I choose to dip my soft shell crabs in a bowl gently because the crabs are fragile.
Make sure the oil is HOT before placing the crabs in the pan. If the oil is not hot enough, your soft shell crabs won’t be crispy; they’ll be soggy. I always test the oil by placing a tip of a claw in the oil; if it sizzles and bubbles then I know it’s ready.
Cook for a couple of minutes on each side, turning gently. The crabs are ready when they’re a coral color and the breading is golden brown. Place on a plate lined with paper towels to drain.
I like to eat my soft shell crabs on a bun with coleslaw and tartar sauce.
A very special thanks to Eric and Chris at Blue Ocean Market for teaching me how to clean soft shell crabs. You guys rock!