Technique Tuesday: How to Clean Soft Shell Crabs

It's soft shell crab season!  From mid-May to early September for the east coast, and longer if you are near the gulf coast, we are in the time of year when these sweet, oceany delicacies are popping up practically all over.

Soft shell crabs are regular crabs who have outgrown their current hard exoskeleton, and have shed it as most crustaceans do.  Within a few hours their new, soft under-skeleton starts to harden if they remain in the ocean's cold water.  But if caught during that precious window, the shell is soft enough where the entire animal, shell and all, is tender enough to be consumed.  Not only are they plump and sweet and briny, but you get all of that delectable crab goodness without having to deal with cracking and mallets and bits of flying shell.  It also allows for pretty cool whole crab presentations.

There are a few small bits of the crab that need to be removed (or cleaned or dressed) before cooking and eating.  Your fishmonger can generally do this for you, but ideally it should be done right before cooking to maintain maximum freshness.  It is just four simple steps, and worth trying yourself.

Soft shell crabs are available frozen year round, but are never better than right now.  Try to get them still alive, but if not so lively and simply marked "fresh" make sure they haven't been in the market for longer than a day, and cook them within twenty-four hours.  And now that you know how to clean them, buy a dozen, cook a few, clean the rest and freeze them for soft shell crab cravings later in the year.


1.  With kitchen shears or a large knife, cut off the eyes and mouth about 1/4" back from the front of the shell.

2.  Gently remove the yellowish clear jelly-like substance just inside the cut.

3.  Flip the crab over and locate the apron on its underside.  For a female it will be rounded with a small point (as in the photo above), for a male it will be almost all pointed, similar to the Eiffel Tower.  Peel the apron back and open, and gently pull it off of the body.  Discard the apron.

4.  Turn the crab back over and gently bend up the right side of the shell near where the legs attach.

Remove the feathery beige gills that are just beneath the shell.  Discard.  Fold the shell back down into place and repeat for the left side.

Voila! Clean crab!


2 responses to “Technique Tuesday: How to Clean Soft Shell Crabs”

  1. rowan bone says:

    very impressed. thanx guys. and so professionally demonstrated. 5 stars

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Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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