Also known as a lobster’s wider, side-walking cousin, a soft-shell crab can be an intimidating meal and a downright terrifying ingredient if you have the pleasure of cooking one yourself. Caught almost immediately after having molted their previous shell, soft-shelled crabs are perfect for consuming whole as their new shells have yet to harden providing an excellent and unique eating experience.
In fact, the animal can be eaten in its entirety except for its mouth, gills, and abdominal cover – which are thankfully removed.
What exactly is Soft-Shell Crab?
You would be forgiven for thinking that this type of animal is a rare species of crab that has a soft shell perfect for eating, but the reality makes a little more sense. Typically, soft-shell crabs are your average, garden variety crab that has recently molted.
It is this process of shedding their shell and growing another that provides a short window of time whilst the new shell is forming to interrupt the crab before it has a chance to harden and leave it with a soft outer shell. The shell is often subtlety wrinkled and desaturated at this point and is part of the iconic appearance of this fan favorite.
How Do Fishermen Predict This Change?
Finding a recently molted crab in the wild can be a difficult affair, and so fishermen over the years have had to adopt new techniques and strategies to perfectly time these happenings. Instead of waiting to find a crab that has tossed its shell, harvesters have started recognizing the tell-tale signs that a crab is preparing to molt and began harvesting them just before they lose their shell. They are then stored in temperature-controlled areas and monitored until they are ready to be harvested. This change has led to a huge decrease in the price of soft-shell crab over the past years and is one of the main reasons we can actually afford to eat them.
When is the best time to eat Soft-Shell Crab?
Available for 6 months out of the year, soft-shell crab is a widely available food when compared to other specialty seafood offerings. And although you can find it available between March and September, that doesn’t mean you should wait as this particular crab can be a very difficult crab to procure. After all, not only do fishermen need to find them in the waters, but they also have to wait for them to shed their shells.
How To Cook Whole Soft Shell Crab
The beauty of this type of crab is that you can do almost anything with it. Not having to contend with a tough and inedible shell means that you are open to almost any presentation you want. In Japan, sushi is a common way that people can enjoy this wonderful type of crab. But equally, in the US you can find it deep-fried as a whole animal. A whole, battered soft-shell crab is truly an evocative image and one that is excellent to use as your centerpiece Instagram pictures.
If you are more of a home cook looking to make a splash (yes, I went there), then sautéing the crab is an excellent way to add some culinary flair to any dish that you are making. Once your guests see the component parts of an entire crab adorning their plates they will no doubt wonder where exactly you became so skilled at seafood preparation.
Where To Eat Soft-Shell Crab
Although you can find it in many places in the US, there are two particular areas that have tried hard to put soft-shell crab on the map – New England and Venice. Only being available for a few weeks twice a year, the soft-shell crab in Venice is often considered the best in the world. Kept alive until just before they are due to hit the plate, these crabs possess the purest flavor that you could ask for, having only stopped moving minutes prior to you eating it.
The Best ways to eat it
Just like anything else, the best way to eat soft-shell crab is completely up to you, but we can give you a couple of ideas to get you started.
As the old saying goes, everything is better deep-fried. And soft-shell crab is no exception. In fact, many say it is the best way to eat it. Coating the entire animal in a layer of breading or batter and submerging it for about 8 minutes in hot oil will give you a perfectly cooked crab absolutely bursting with juice and flavor. In fact, once you break that watertight seal that your coating has created, you will be hard-pressed to stem the dam of flavor that will start to leak out.
But of course, crab is often considered a very luxurious item when served on a ceramic plate indoors instead of a paper one by the sea, and this is no exception. If you treat it properly with some flour and aromatics, you can create an excellent centerpiece for any fine dining experience. The subtle wrinkles of the developing shell create an excellent crust and it is difficult to find any other meat that can replicate its ability to capture the sauce.
It will come as no surprise that another of the best ways to eat this delicious crab is as part of a sushi offering. Its tender meat and soft yet toothsome shell bring a wonderful texture and surprise to any sushi platter and one that you are unlikely to forget for many years after.