Plated+Served: ‘Tis the Season!


Mama’s fam loves it when she gets “crabby” this time of year ‘cause that means only one thing: soft-shells are in season!

In my other life I lived for a while in Washington D.C. where I was introduced to the sweet briny joy of soft-shell crabs freshly plucked from the Chesapeake Bay. I think part of their appeal is the fact that they are available fresh May to September—making them a limited-time treat.

Soft-shells are blue crabs, 3 ½ to 5 ½ inches, that have shed their hard shells. There is a very small amount of time to pull them from the water (2 to 3 hours) before their hard shells begin growing again, so the crabs are caught and held in special tanks  just before they molt. When the molting is finished, they’re immediately pulled from the water and flash frozen or packed in wet straw and shipped live. This process has to be quick, because the crabs can’t survive for more than a few days out of water.

OK, science class is now over.

When you buy your soft-shells, ask if they have been frozen… you want them live if possible. Smell them! They should smell fresh, like a sea breeze. Make sure they have all of their legs and claws. The shells should be soft. North Carolina, Louisiana, and Maryland and Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay are the biggest producers of soft-shells, but some from Southeast Asia have also hit the market… so ask where they’re from!

More and more restaurants are putting soft-shells on the menu… so demand is up, making them expensive. Don’t be intimidated… if you see them for sale at the grocery or fish market, buy them.!

They aren’t that difficult to prepare. Just a few snips and a rinse and you are ready to cook them, or ask the person behind the fish counter to clean them for you. Clean them right before cooking, or clean them and store them in the coldest part of the fridge for up to two days.

You can eat almost the entire soft-shell… I like them sautéed or grilled because the outside gets crispy and the inside is rich and juicy and has a delicious nutty flavor. I think deep frying is a waste of a good soft-shell because all you taste is the deep fry flavor.

Next time you are at the fish counter or market, ask for soft-shell crabs if they don’t have them out. They’re a great summer treat… and they’ll keep everyone from getting “crabby.” (I just had to say that.)

I’m Christina Chavez

I was a TV journalist for many years, but with a house full of kids I decided to come off the road, go to culinary school and follow my passion for cooking. Mama’s High Strung is all about food… everything from creative recipe ideas to some really cool kitchen gadgets and cooking tips. I live in Chicago, but I love to travel and write about my food discoveries! You can reach me by email: