As simple as a couple of snips and a rinse.
When buying soft-shell crabs, live ones are the best but they’re not always easy to find. To select the tastiest, use your nose. When fresh, they smell clean and astringent, like sea mist―a fitting aroma for a delicacy that both captures the romance of the sea and the allure of a full moon in spring.
1. To clean soft-shell crabs, hold the crab in one hand, and using a pair of kitchen shears, cut off the front of the crab, about 1/2 inch behind the eyes and mouth. Squeeze out the contents of the sack located directly behind the cut you just made.
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2. Lift one pointed end of the crab’s outer shell; remove and discard the gills. Repeat on the other side.
3. Turn the crab over and snip off the small flap known as the apron. Rinse the entire crab well and pat dry. Once cleaned, crabs should be cooked or stored immediately.
Storing Soft-Shell Crabs Soft-shell crabs are often stored at very cold temperatures to keep the shell from hardening and to prevent decomposition if they die. Store cleaned crabs wrapped in plastic wrap in the coldest part of the refrigerator for up to two days.
Soft-Shell Crab Sizes Soft-shell crabs come in five sizes. The smallest, called mediums weigh about 2 ounces and measure 3 1/2 to 4 inches across the top. Hotels (2.5 ounces; 4 to 4 1/2 inches), primes (about 3 ounces; 4 1/2 to 5 inches), and jumbos (4 ½ ounces; 5 to 5 1/2 inches) are the more commonly found sizes. Whalers (about 6 ounces; 5 1/2 to 6 inches), the largest soft-shell crabs available, are reputed to be a bit on the tough side.
Soft Shell Crab Recipes and Instruction
Many consider soft shell crabs to be a delicacy, and a way to enjoy crabs without the arduous task of picking them. Soft shells are any crab that has molted within the last 12 hours. During that time the shells are soft and papery, so they can be eaten whole, claw to claw. Chef Spike Gjerde is the first Baltimore chef to win the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic, and was raised in Baltimore. He knows his crabs: "Blue crab is really unlike any other crab in the world, thanks to the growing conditions, and the type of estuary we have here," he says. "They are superior to any other crab in my opinion."
Before finding their way to a plate, soft shells are typically fried with a seasoned batter or sautéed. It’s hard not to love something deep fried, but many natives consider sautéing the better option to not overwhelm the sweetness of the meat. Both methods preserve the fatty mustard inside and typically lead to a crab gushing with juice.
Because they are so flavorful, a crispy shell bitten into for an explosion of rich juice crab taste, I like a very simple sauteed crab best. Some like it plain, soe with a remoulade sauce, and some with tartar sauce. But the number of ways and various international treatments of the crab makes it a very versatile delicacy used globally. A video on cleaning the crab, which is very simple, follows the recipe ideas.
How to Clean a Soft Shell Crab
Soft shell crabs are almost completely edible, but there are a few things you’ll want to remove before cooking them.
1. If your soft shell crabs are frozen, thaw them. Check out our general thawing tips for more info.
2. Using a sharp set of kitchen shears, trim the “head” off of each crab. This is the front section of the crab, just behind the eyes.
3. Remove the crab’s stomach by reaching into the newly created gap in the shell and pulling it out.
4. Peel back one side (right or left, not front or back) of the top shell and pull out the crab’s gills (these are darker and feathery…also known as “dead man’s fingers” because of their appearance).
5. Repeat with the other side.
6. Flip the crab over and find the apron. This is a flap of shell that curls under the crab’s belly. Lift it up and use your shears to trim it off.
7. Cook your crabs according to your recipe. They’re usually deep fried or sautéed.
How to Prepare Soft Shell Crabs
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Soft shell crabs, which are perfect for a savory seafood dinner, are actually normal crabs that have molted their tough outer shell. This means you can eat practically the entire crab, and the only parts you need to trim off are the face, apron, and gills. If you prefer not to do the cleaning process yourself, you can also purchase pre-cleaned crabs. After they've been cleaned, you should start cooking the crabs right away for the best flavor. Roll the crabs in a flour-salt mixture and fry them in oil until they turn a warm red. Garnish and serve them while they're still hot!
- 4 soft-shell crabs
- 1 egg
- ½ cup milk
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- salt and pepper to taste
- 4 cups oil for frying, or as needed
Clean each crab. Lift one pointed side of top shell and remove the gills by pulling them out. Put top shell back down and repeat on other side. On the bottom side remove tail flap by twisting and pulling off. Using a pair of scissors, remove the face by cutting behind the eyes. Rinse the crabs thoroughly with cold water. Dry on paper towels.
Heat oil in a deep fryer to 365 degrees F (180 degrees F). In a shallow dish, whisk together the egg and milk using a fork. In a separate bowl, stir salt and pepper into the flour. Lightly salt the crab, then dip in the flour, dip in the egg, then in the flour again.
Carefully place crabs into the deep-fryer. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until golden brown on one side. Carefully turn over, and cook until golden on the other side. Drain on paper towels. Serve as soon as they are cool enough to eat. You can eat the whole crab.
Storing the Soft Shell Crabs
Make sure to rinse the crabs before cooking or storing them. You can store the soft shell crabs in the freezer by using a FoodSaver.
If you use vacuum sealer system (FoodSaver) the crabs will keep up to one year. Also, you can place the crabs in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days only by wrapping them in saran wrap.
Soft Shell Crabs are delicious either fried, grilled, roasted, baked and used in a stir-fry or eaten on a soft shell crab sandwich.
I prefer my Soft Shell Crabs deep fried on a Po’Boy or used in a recipe like my Fried Soft Shell Crab and Crawfish Sauce recipe.
How to Prepare Soft Shell Crabs for Cooking
If you buy frozen soft shell crabs, they are almost certainly 'dressed' (cleaned) and ready to cook. If they are fresh, however, you'll need to prep them first. It's a simple process that begins with snipping straight across the front part of the shell just behind the eyes. This is most easily done with a pair of scissors, and it dispatches the crab instantly.
Next, lift each half of the top shell and remove the feathery gills, or 'lungs.' Then, flip the crab over and pull off the lower hinged plate (the part with the point) at the bottom of the shell. That's it—you're done!
- 6 soft-shell crabs
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Rinse crabs under cold running water brush them with a small brush if necessary to remove any dirt from their shells. Twist off and discard apron. Fold back the pointed sides of the top shell to expose gills remove gills on both sides. Using kitchen scissors, cut across the front of the crab about 1/4-inch behind the eyes and mouth squeeze out the small sac located directly behind the mouth.
Preheat a grill with the lid down or a grill pan over medium-high heat.
Brush crabs with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place crabs on grill and cover. Cook, turning crabs every couple minutes and basting them with remaining olive oil, until they turn orange and are cooked through, 7 to 9 minutes. Remove from grill and serve immediately.
How To Clean Blue Crab The Easy Way [VIDEO]
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There are just two easy steps to cleaning blue crabs this way:
- Crack off the top of the shell
- Clean out the guts and gills (the easiest way to do this is to blast it all out with a hose)
This leaves lots of delicious meat in the corners of the body, in addition to in the claws and legs.
By cleaning crabs before boiling them, you don’t have to deal with the guts and gills on the dinner plate, which makes things much easier and appetizing.
Whisk mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, whole grain mustard, and Old Bay seasoning in small bowl.
DO AHEAD: Sauce can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill.
Whisk vinegar and mustard in medium bowl. Add cabbage and chile and toss to combine season with salt and pepper.
Crab and Assembly
Pour oil into a large skillet, preferably cast iron, to a depth of 1/2" and heat over medium-high heat until oil bubbles immediately when a pinch of flour is added.
Meanwhile, whisk flour, cayenne, and 1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning in a shallow bowl season with salt and pepper. Place eggs into another shallow bowl. Whisk panko and remaining 1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning in a third shallow bowl season with salt and pepper.
Dredge crabs in flour mixture, shaking off excess, then dip in egg, letting excess drip back into bowl. Coat in panko mixture.
Working in 2 batches, place crabs, shell side down, in skillet and cook until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Season with salt.
Build sandwiches with buns, sauce, crabs, and slaw.
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