How to Buy and Cook Soft Shell Crabs

We asked experts at The Lobster Place and Cull & Pistol in NYC how to prepare this seasonal dish
How to Buy and Cook Soft Shell Crabs


Deep fried soft shell crabs are available from the late spring through summer. 

While we are trying to shed those extra pounds we put on this winter, East Coast blue crabs are shedding their exoskeleton, and while that might not sound overtly appetizing, the delicate, lightly sautéed crab dressed with mustard, salt, pepper, and fresh herbs will certainly be met with feverish delight by diners.

The season runs from late spring through summer, and while many may have tasted this seasonal delicacy at restaurants either deep-fried to crispy bite, pan-seared over cold greens, or even grilled over smoky coals, even more aren’t quite sure what to do with the “softies” if faced with cooking them at home.

To improve our odds of taking full-advantage of soft shell crab season, we turned to experts for advice on how to buy and cook soft shell crabs.

Executive Chef David Seigal at Cull & Pistol Oyster Bar in New York City’s Chelsea Market shared with us his recipe for a deep-fried soft shell crab sandwich. Chef Seigal says of his recipe for Soft Shell Crab Sandwich With Harissa Aioli, “Soft shell crabs are an east coast delicacy only available during the warmer months. Their crispy texture and rich flavor match up well against the dynamic spices and heat of the harissa aioli” (Click here for the recipe).

However, before you start cooking you need to buy these delicate crabs, which is why we talked to Davis Herron, Director of Retail and Restaurant Division at The Lobster Place, the sister restaurant of Cull & Pistol Oyster Bar in New York. Herron explains, “Live crabs deteriorate quickly once they are dead so the key to buying softs shell crabs is to purchase them alive. Give them a tap to make sure there is a little movement, but keep in mind they won’t be lively.  It’s preferable to clean them right before cooking, but if you must, ask your fishmonger to do it for you.” Check out this guide from Herron on how to clean your crabs and try more soft shell crab recipes featured here.

How to Clean Soft Shell Crabs: 

Grasp the crab body between its back legs and hold it over a sink.

Snip off the mouth and eyes with kitchen scissors.

Pull up the top shell and remove the gills by hand or with scissors.

Flip crab over on its back and remove the apron (T-shaped on male crabs, triangular on female crabs) from the body.

Angela Carlos is the Cook Editor at The Daily Meal. Find her on Twitter and tweet @angelaccarlos.

Rate this Story