Image Credit: Geoff Peters (CC License)
There are more than 67,000 species of crabs recorded globally. And none stir a bit of argy-bargy and disagreement as soft shell crab does. You either love them or hate them. So if you haven’t yet had the chance to taste soft shell crab, you’re in for a treat. This article is going to be fun.
Soft shell crabs are slippery and slimy when raw. The first time I had a soft shell crab, it was in the form of a sandwich. The spindly legs and grabby claws poked out from the bread slices.
I still remember the strong hesitation I felt before finally taking the plunge.
We’ll explore what soft shell crab tastes like, the honest answers shared by fellow foodies, the right way to prepare and eat the crab, and so much more!
Table Of Content
What Does Soft Shell Crab Taste Like?
The soft shell crab meat tastes rich, buttery, and a bit tender with a sweet tanginess. Soft-shelled crabs have the same delicate, lobster-like intensity as their hard-shelled counterparts. The shells add a “crunch” and earthy flavor and have a fried rice paper-like texture.
The body meat is white, the claw meat is beige, and the soft shells have an orangish-red color. It does taste like crab, but it has a milder crab flavor than just eating the meat of other crabs.
Since you’ll be consuming the crab whole (minus the eyes and the lungs), the experience of eating a soft shell crab will be a bit different than eating Dungeness or any other crab.
Taste-wise, there’s not much difference between soft and hard shell crabs. However, they’re pretty varied in terms of texture. When a soft shell crab is deep fried, a very light crunch gives way to buttery soft meat inside.
The texture is not as delicate in hard shell crabs.
What Does Soft Shell Crab Taste Like? My Experience
I tried soft shell crab for the first time back in 2010 in South Carolina. I’d ordered a soft shell crab sandwich. As an avid seafood fan, I eat all kinds of shrimps, mussels, oysters, fish, lobster, and crab. So I’m not easily grossed out.
However, as I mentioned above, I had a tough time wrapping my head around eating a whole crab.
The crab itself was prepared with a thick, deep-fried coating. So, you get a lot of flavor and texture biting into the sandwich. Since you’ll be eating meat, shell, and all, there’s a complexity in taste and texture.
As for the taste, it does taste crabby but not like the crab legs we’re used to eating. The meat is briny, sweet, and buttery but also has a somewhat fishy and earthy taste.
As for the texture, the shell feels like fried rice paper. However, it’s a bit tougher to chew.
The sandwich dressing included avocado, cucumber, masago, mayo, mango, eel sauce, and sesame seeds. But the crab’s distinct flavor was still dominant.
So, on a scale of 1-10, what would I rate a soft shell crab sandwich? Hmm, I think I’d give it a 6. I wasn’t a fan, but it wasn’t downright unpalatable either.
Would I try it again? Probably not – but I’m grateful I got a chance to try it.
While researching for this article, I came across a bunch of online reviews. It was a mixed bag. I have pooled some of the comments below so you can find out other people’s takes on it.
What Does Soft Shell Crab Taste Like? Real Answers By Real People!
“The only time I’ve had it, the whole crab was breaded and deep-fried. It was awesome, crunchy, and of course, crabby.”
“I’ve had a delight called the “spider” sandwich that is an entire soft shell crab boiled and dressed into a sandwich. It was just okay.”
“A sushi place where I live offers spider roll, a deep-fried soft shell crab in a roll with plenty of other stuff. Tastes delicious – crunchy with just the right amount of crabby flavor.”
“It all depends on how you have it. The texture/flavor is crunchy/sweet when prepared the right way. Freaking delicious.”
“I found it gross. The crunch is just too much for me. Tastes good, but I don’t like the texture.”
“The meat was chewy but warm and delicious. The texture was like paper mache.”
“Since you’re eating the whole crab, the insides and all, it contributes to the crabby taste.”
“I’d kill for a soft shell sandwich with tartar sauce. But it depends on where you’re getting it and how it’s prepared.”
“I think it’s like eating the shrimp with the shell on. Maybe a bit thinner.”
“I tried soft shell crab this weekend and was utterly disappointed. The shell’s texture is nice, something akin to tempura. But the flavor threw me off right off the bat. It had a strong punch of super fishy seawater.”
But What Exactly Is A Soft Shell Crab?
Although known by many different names, soft shell crabs are the same as hard shell crabs – both come from the same type of blue crab but are harvested at different life stages.
After winter, when the water starts to heat up, blue crabs begin to molt. They grow too large for their shells and need to remove them to develop new ones. The crab becomes 10-25% larger in the process.
Once the crab sheds its old shell, a new shell begins to develop. But a few days pass before a hard new shell has finished growing. During this very short window, blue crabs are harvested quickly.
Crabbers keep blue crabs that are about to lose their shell – peelers – in spacious and shallow saltwater tanks so they can closely monitor the crab’s progress.
You’re supposed to look at the faint line around the crab’s paddle fins, located on the back of the legs, waiting for the line’s color to change. As the crab gets closer to molting, the line changes from green to red.
As soon as the crabs have shed their hard outer shells, they are plucked from the water, classified based on size, and nestled into seaweed beds.
Removing the crab during this window prevents their thin, delicate cover from hardening into a shell.
Professional crabbers know just when to remove soft shell blue crabs. Removing them too early will make them too soft to travel. And if you remove them too late, they’ll grow into leatherbacks.
How To Eat Soft Shell Crabs?
Soft shell crabs are eaten whole – the meat, the shell, the claws. The shell is pliable, and the meat inside is tangy, juicy, and sweet – bursting with pure crab flavor.
The most common methods of cooking a soft shell crab are grilling, broiling, and frying. The crab should be broiled or fried for about 4 minutes on each side.
If you’re grilling it, allocate 5 minutes per side on the grill.
Soft Shell Crab Sandwich Recipe
Soft-shell crabs are a seasonal delight, and there’s no better way to enjoy them than deep frying the crab and sandwiching it between toasted bread alongside lettuce, tomato, mayo, and a dash of tartar sauce.
Ingredients For Soft Shell Crab Sandwich
- Canola oil for frying
- 4 big soft shell crabs – “zumbo” or “whale” size
- 1 cup all-purpose flour, divided
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- Kosher salt
- Ground black pepper
- A pinch of paprika
- 4 toasted soft burger buns
- 6 ounces of light beer
- Mayonnaise, remoulade, or tartar sauce for serving
- Shredded iceberg or romaine lettuce
- Thinly sliced tomato
Cooking Instructions For Soft Shell Crabs
Preheat around ½ inch of oil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit in a big stainless steel skillet.
In a bowl, combine ½ cup cornstarch, kosher salt, ground black pepper, baking powder, and paprika. Whisk to combine. Set aside the remaining ½ cup of flour in a shallow bowl.
Add crabs to plain flour and gently toss to coat. Add beer to cornstarch/flour mix and whisk to make a batter.
Lift a crab from the flour mix and shake off the excess. Dip it in batter, turn to coat, then lift, allowing the extra batter to drain back into the bowl. Carefully place the crab into the hot oil.
Repeat this process with the remaining 3 crabs.
Cook for 3 minutes, turning at least once. The batter will be golden and crispy on both sides. Transfer the crabs to paper towels using a slotted fish spatula and sprinkle with salt.
Smear the buns with mayo, tartar sauce, or remoulade. Add shredded lettuce and a slice or two of tomato to each bottom bun. Top with fried crab and close the sandwiches.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do You Eat The Entire Soft Shell Crab?
Yes, you eat the entire soft shell crab. Having said that, some people prefer to remove the eyes and the lungs. The crab is often deep-fried in breading. But it can also be sauteed or grilled.
Does Soft Shell Crab Taste Different?
Soft shell crab’s taste is best described as rich, buttery, and tender. However, as you can see from the comments above, some describe the taste to be earthy, crabby, and even fishy.
Is Soft Shell Crab Easy To Eat?
Yes, soft shell crab is easy to eat because you eat it whole – the meat, the shell, the claws – everything.
Is Soft Shell Crab Expensive?
Soft shell crab is comparatively expensive because a crab will only shed its exoskeleton a couple of times a year. Also, preparing soft shell crabs for the market takes more labor.
What Is The Difference Between Hard Shell Crab And Soft Shell Crab?
Hard shell crabs and soft shell crabs are essentially the same. Soft shell crabs are hard shell crabs harvested in the middle of their molting process where they haven’t grown a new shell.
The crabs usually molt around May.
Is Soft Shell Crab Real Crab?
Yes, soft shell crabs are real crabs. They are hard shell crabs without the shell. They can be eaten whole and are often deep-fried or made into sandwiches.
What Months Are Soft Shell Crabs In Season?
Soft shell crabs are usually in season from early March to late September.
Soft shell crabs are in season in Texas throughout the year except for February, from late spring through early fall in Louisiana, year-round in Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida, from April through December in Maryland, and from late spring through September in North Carolina.
Are Soft Shell Crabs Cleaned Before Cooking?
If you purchase frozen soft shell crabs, they’ll come cleaned and all set to cook.
If your soft shell crabs are fresh, you’ll need to thoroughly clean them first.
Final Words: What Does Soft Shell Crab Taste Like?
The consensus is that soft shell meat tastes sweet, tangy, rich, and buttery. However, not everyone’s a fan of soft shell crabs.
Since the crab is supposed to be eaten whole, there are opposing views about how to prepare them and what they taste like.
I think soft shell crabs taste just ok. I found the meat to be briny, sweet, and buttery, but there was also a lingering earthy and fishy taste. I’m not a big fan of soft shell crabs; I don’t think I’d have them again.