Just a little bit on Soft Shell Crabs…..
The beginning of spring brings along one of my favorite seafood harvests. Because of limited season, high demand, and their volatile nature, soft-shell crab is one of the south’s greatest delicacies. At the Grille, I like to keep things light—tempura frying them and serving with a lemon basil aioli and an arugula salad with a peanut-yuzu vinaigrette.
Soft-shell crab is a culinary term for crabs that have recently molted their old exoskeleton and are still soft. Soft shells are removed from the water as soon as they molt or, preferably, just before to prevent any hardening of their shell. Catching soft-shell crab is very time-sensitive and requires they be immediately climate-controlled until they molt, at which point they can be safely removed and sold.
This means that almost the entire animal can be eaten, rather than having to shell the animal to reach the meat. The exceptions are the mouthparts, the gills and the abdominal cover or apron, which are discarded (“cleaned”). The remaining, edible part of the crab is typically deep fried or sautéed.
In the United States, the main species is the blue crab, which appears in markets starting in late March. Often the crabs start in the southern coastline of Georgia and make their way up towards the lowcountry as the season progresses.
In the Deep South, most notably the Gulf coasts of Louisiana and Alabama, “Buster crab” can be a synonym for a plump, meaty soft-shell crab. However, the original meaning of Buster crab referred to either a soft-shell that had yet to complete molting, or to a soft-shell that had died before being provided to a seafood vendor and was then consumed quickly by the crabbers.
Soft-shell crabs can have the soft organs removed during cleaning, or they can be left in for consumption. In the latter case, along the US Atlantic coast, the customer asks the vendor to leave “the mustard”, referring to the yellow-orange color of the hepatopancreas, and the deep orange of the roe in a female crab.