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Notes from the Island Fishmonger

Soft Shell Crab 101

One of the sweetest, most tender and mouthwatering foods in the world is the white succulent meat from a Crab. Sometimes you got to work for it but a mouth full of butter-dipped crab meat can be one of the better things in life.

As of May 15, us Floridians said goodbye to our beloved stone crabs and in July we said hello to the southern soft shell crab. The end of a good crab season is always disappointing but it is not the end of the world. When one crab season ends, another begins. On the west Coast from Seattle, Washington to Vancouver, Canada the Dungeness crab season is now open and provides a crab feast and right around the corner it’s ON in Alaska as the king crab and snow crab captains gear up to set sail.

As the stone crab traps come to shore they will be replaced by the buoy of the blue crab traps that will be strategically placed in our waters. Unlike in Maryland these swimming crabs are a tough catch in Florida as blue crabs are not overly abundant to this area. It’s estimated that one-third of the nation’s catch of blue crabs comes from the Chesapeake Bay area. One thing we have learned at the Big Water Fish Market is that a discussion that compares crab cakes with Maryland folk is a losing battle.

I have spent many afternoons or evenings picking away at blue crabs. If you have ever picked through the calcified shell of a blue crab in search of tender meat, you know that it’s hard work. As a matter of fact, I feel like it’s a lot of work for little reward and frankly, I find it to be boooooring. That’s why I get excited when the weather warms up and the southern cities like Charleston and New Orleans’ Gulfports deliver a bumper crop of floppy soft shell crabs.

Randy going for it!

Now the soft shell crab is a meal. You eat the whole crab and every bite explodes with crab juiciness. Softshell crabs are blue crabs harvested right after they shed their exoskeletons; once they have busted out of there old shells, replacements begin to re-grow. And, the new shell will begin to harden within hours. The trick to harvesting soft shells is to catch them in the transitional stage. Fisherman typically capture the crabs before they molt and hold them in cages in the sea or saltwater tanks instead of scouring the ocean. As soon as the Crabs drop their shells they are removed from the water which stops a new skeleton from hardening as these creatures of the sea become people food.

All soft shell crabs will come from your local retail fish counter either fresh or frozen. Most soft shells are frozen within minutes after being removed from the water and cleaned. If you’re lucky enough to find actual fresh, live soft shell Crabs that’s the way to go. Live crabs should still be moving and smell like an ocean breeze. Any good fishmonger can clean your fresh crabs for you in a matter of minutes. A few snips with a pair of scissors and your Crab will be ready for this delicious Southern Fried Softshell Crab recipe.

  • Dip your cleaned soft shell crabs in an egg wash
  • Then dip and coat with breaded mixture of flour, creole seasoning and salt & pepper
  • Pour oil an inch deep into a heavy frying pan. Heat to 350 degrees
  • Fry the breaded Crab for 4-5minutes, or until it reaches an internal temp of 135 degrees.
  • Remove from oil and place on a plate lined with paper towel to dry
  • Sprinkle with Creole Seasoning, salt & pepper to taste

Serve over grits, salad, veggies or as the oh-so-popular Soft shell sandwich.

Live Happy…Eat Crabs!
Scott Dolan

Big Water Fish Market
6641 Midnight Pass Road
Siesta Key, 941-554-8101
www.BigWaterFishMarket.com