Soft Shell Crabs, An Outer Banks Treat
You’ve heard the comments. You’ve seen the mixed looks of uncertainty, fear and skepticism. It’s the first timers who see a fried soft shell crab and ask, “You seriously expect me to eat that?”
As a part of a sandwich, there’s no denying they look a bit strange, with their spidery-looking fried legs hanging over the edges. But once newcomers actually try a bite, they realize what most Outer Banks locals already know – that soft shell crabs are simply delicious and a seasonal delicacy we wait for every year.
So what are these creatures? How are they harvested? Soft crabs are simply blue crabs that have recently molted, shedding their hard shells, leaving a paper-thin exoskeleton that hardens within hours. So timing is everything in the harvesting of these delicious little beauties.
We came across this great blog by Terry Moore, writing for Southern Shores Realty, about local soft shell crabs and the harvesting process. And I have to tell you, even though I’ve been eating them for years, I didn’t know all of this.
“How do commercial fishers know Soft Shell Crab season has started?
In a normal year the season will start somewhere in late April, early May. Some people will take a net and drag it to see if they catch any “peelers” (a peeler is a crab that has left or is leaving its shell), but what most people do is they set an empty peeler pot and see if one goes into it. A crab will usually go in for protection. When they’re soft they become vulnerable. But people do it in different ways.
Most who soft shell crab also hard shell crab and they’ll notice that when they begin catching less hard shell crabs then soft shell season is about to begin. soft shell crab on the outer banks
How can a consumer know it’s Soft Shell Crab season?
Visiting your local seafood market often is the best way. Many say that soft shell crab season starts around the same time as strawberry season (strawberry patches near the area where the crabbing takes place); how accurate that is I don’t know. We do know that the crabs will shed the most around the full moon.
Why are the crabs getting soft?
They’re shedding their hard shell in order to grow. When they get out of their shell they are already larger. And within hours they are hard again and bigger.
What is the strategy in catching the crabs?
When catching hard shell crab you can use chicken or fish in the pot, but when you’re going for soft shell crab you use a “Jimmy” crab. A Jimmy is a male crab. Crabs mate during soft shell season and placing a large male in the pot will draw in the other crabs.” Read More>>
Happily, most of the Outer Banks restaurants that normally serve seafood will also have seasonal soft shell crabs specials on their menu. Or if you prefer, you can also purchase them at a local fish market and try frying them up yourself! If you’re unsure of how to cook them, just ask when you’re purchasing them. Local fishmongers are always happy to help. Here is one recipe by local cook and author, Rosie Hawthorne.
Suffice it to say, soft shell crabs are great a local treat, so if you’ve never had the chance to try them, give them a whirl. As my momma always said, “You can’t say you don’t like something until you’ve tried it.”[su_highlight background=”#fff899″] You can read the whole soft shell crab story by Southern Shores Realty here.[/su_highlight]
Image courtesy Oxmoor House.