This Classic Fried Soft Shell Crab Sandwich Recipe is one of the most popular coastal seafood items served in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. A staple of the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding tributaries, it’s made from blue crabs that have recently molted shells.
A crab grows by backing out or shedding its old or hard shell and regrowing a new one. When the crab is in this process, its new shell has a skin-like softness or “paper shell” stage that will quickly harden.
During this molting period, once the crab has shed its old shell, the attending waterman pulls them from the water and refrigerates them to prevent the shell from getting hard again.
The shell of a soft crab will start to harden within 12 hours, so this requires around-the-clock monitoring.
Blue crabs tend to molt at the same time each year. Females in the spring, Males in the late summer. During this period, watermen keep crabs in shallow tanks and watch them around the clock.
Once they shed their old shells, they are then plucked from the water and placed in cold storage. Cold temperatures prevent the crab shell from hardening.
Soft shell crabs are then frozen or refrigerated for sale.
Do you eat the shell of soft crabs?
Yes. Once the blue crab has shed its old or hard shell, the crab will already have a new shell, but it will be very soft for 12 hours. A soft crab looks just like a regular blue crab, except that the shell is very soft. If you pick it up, you can feel the softness.
What do fried soft shell crabs taste like?
Both soft and hard shell crabs have a salty-sweet flavor. However, the textures are quite different. The texture of a fried soft shell crab has a light crunch, to go along with the buttery soft meat inside.
During the cleaning process, all the internal organs of the crab are removed. What you are left with is a soft outer skin surrounding a collection of lump crab meat along with claw meat that will please the most discriminating palettes.
Main Ingredients Needed
Easy Fried Soft Shell Crab Sandwich Recipe
- Prepare crab for cooking.
- Lift up the left and right sides of the soft shell and remove the gills [Here’s a video of how to clean a soft shell crab that illustrates this.]
- Use kitchen shears to trim off the face (eyes and mouth area) and the crab apron from underneath the crab.
- Whisk the egg in a bowl until it is evenly mixed.
- Dredge the crab in the egg until it is evenly coated.
- Dredge the crab in the breading until it is covered, and season with salt and pepper as desired.
- Heat oil in a fryer or pan to approx 375 degrees.
- Place coated crab in the hot oil and cook for 3-4 minutes, until golden brown.
- Remove the crab from the hot oil using tongs and pat dry with a paper towel to remove excess oil.
- Toast roll.
Soft shell crabs are crabs that have just molted their old exoskeleton and are still soft. This means you can eat the entire crab, shell and all. Soft shell crabs have a rich, sweet flavor and a tender texture.
This recipe specifically calls for soft shell crabs. Hard shell crabs have a hard shell that you can’t eat. If soft shell crabs aren’t available, consider using a different type of seafood like shrimp or fish.
While frying gives the crabs a crispy texture, you can certainly bake them for a healthier option. Keep in mind the texture will be slightly different, but they should still be delicious.
Lettuce, tomatoes, and onions are traditional, but you can also add avocado, bacon, or even a spicy mayo.
Any sturdy bread that can hold up to the crispy crabs and toppings can be used. A crusty baguette, kaiser roll, or even a toasted brioche bun would be excellent choices.
Cleaning a soft shell crab involves removing the gills, the apron (a small flap on the bottom of the crab), and the eyes and mouth. Your seafood vendor can usually do this for you, or you can do it at home with a pair of kitchen shears.
Coleslaw, potato salad, or a simple green salad would be great. For a classic seafood experience, serve it with French fries or sweet potato fries.
Claudia Faucher is a fitness trainer and lifestyle blogger, who recently started to pursue her other passions… Southern cooking and creating recipes.