An Introductory Handbook on Soft Shell Crabs for Novices

The first batch of soft shell crabs for 2009 has arrived at Grand Central Oyster Bar in Manhattan and other places.

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Robb Walsh, a Houston Press food critic and crustacean expert, highly recommended Jim Gossen as our soft shell crab guru. Gossen was fishing with crawfishermen in the Atchafalaya Basin when we spoke (always a positive sign).

When is the softshell crab season? Soft shell crab season is now underway along the Gulf Coast of Texas and Florida, including Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The season usually begins in early April, and lasts until October or early November. The season is longer on the East Coast or Chesapeake. After the water temperature falls below 50degF, we see fewer crabs.

What should we be looking out for when purchasing them from a fishmarket? If they’re not wrapped in cellophane they were probably frozen. You should clean them just before cooking, not after. Soft shell crabs are hard to keep alive today because of health regulations. The health department demands that we keep our refrigerators at 40degF and below, which is too cold for soft shell crabs. The soft shell crabs are good in the refrigerator for a couple of days.

What about a restaurant? Order soft shell crabs in the harvest months. If they’re running them as a menu item or a special you can be sure they’re fresh. Although properly frozen crabs can be good, nothing beats fresh.

Buy paper shells instead.

Do you see any red flags indicating that I should not be purchased? As I mentioned before, they shouldn’t be wrapped in cellophane. Do not buy paper-like shells. These are crabs who have been in the water for too long. They should also have all their legs and claws.

What should they cost per dozen? The price of Jumbos and Whalers will vary from $48-$75 per dozen, depending on the size and where they are purchased.

What is the difference between soft-shell crabs and “normal” hard-shell crabs? crabs? Soft shell crabs, or crabs in molt, are crabs whose hard shell is growing by about 30%. When they shed their old shell, the crabs are soft for 2 to 3 hours. Their shell begins to harden again.

What restaurants serve the best soft-shell crabs? Sandy makes great soft shell crabs at Grand Central Oyster Bar. They are good at any restaurant that serves them fresh and never frozen. Galatoire’s is my favorite place to get them in New Orleans. I love their sauteed Soft Shell Crabs Meuniere.

How do you like it at home? Fry it is the only way I’ve found to make a soft-shell crab taste better. They taste best when fried. I’ve tried them in many different ways. When we receive our first soft shell deliveries, I prepare a fried soft-shell sandwich on white toast with overripe tomatoes. This first crab sandwich is made with a large crab.