The Soft and Beautiful Swimmers are Back!
Giant soft shell crabs (whales) fresh in today! My wife, Lisa, is so happy, her favorite thing in the world has returned. What could be better than to take one of the world’s most delicious crabs (blue crabs) and be able to enjoy not just the sweet chunky meat but also the entire crab right down to the crispy claws, legs, and paddle fins. In this blog post we talk about the painstaking work that the watermen have to go through to get these delicacies to our tables. But what about the crab’s life and what they go through in this whole process?
The amazing story of the love life of Callinectes, Greek for beautiful swimmer, Sapidus, Latin for savory, is a noble and romantic tale…
A male, called a Jimmy, will approach a female, or Sook, after molting, knowing that she is about to peel (molt). While trying to entice her with a sexy dance on the tips of his legs, he sways tall, waving his claws around, even flipping backwards and kicking up sand! If she thinks he’s worthy she’ll sway to and fro and wave her claws around. After displaying the love dance for a bit she’ll decide whether or not to succumb. If she is taken by him she will turn around and back up under his body where they will click claws for a time until things settle down a bit. He then clasps his legs around her, cradling and carrying her, while searching for a safe place for her to molt for up to a week. He stays with her not only to protect her during this very vulnerable time but also to make sure that he is with her at the moment she peels—and it’s time for some lovin’. Gently he flips her over to begin mating followed by another 48 hours or so of cradling and carrying until her shell hardens. What a crab will go through for a little romance!
As you can see there is a very short window of opportunity to harvest soft crabs. Watermen know how to read for coloration or a reddish line on the paddle fins when crabs are getting ready to peel. Stored in holding tanks they must be monitored 24 hours a day until they peel. After which they are taken out of the water where they cease to harden and are shipped off to market. An incredible process from molting to market and an incredible spring/summer treat!
If you would like to read the most comprehensive blue crab book ever, check out William W. Warners, Beautiful Swimmers, Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay. It’s a classic.
Cooking soft crabs is easy. As far as I’m concerned the best way to prepare them is either pan fried, deep fried, or grilled. We often grill them and here’s a simple recipe. Enjoy!