Buying Soft Shell Crabs
October 21, 2015
Buying Soft Shell Crabs
Soft-shell crabs are one of America's favorite seafood delicacies. While all crabs shed their shells to grow, only a few species of crab can actually be eaten in this form. The blue crab is the only commercially available soft-shell product. The scientific name, Callinectes sapidus, is derived from Latin and Greek. Calli = beautiful; Nectes = swimmer; sapidus = savory. The translation is not only accurate but surprisingly poetic—the beautiful, savory swimmer. We welcome folks to come visit the peelers in our tanks. They are fun to watch, and you might be lucky enough to see one molt into a soft crab! They are just darling!
Blue crabs grow rather rapidly, 12 - 18 months, from the juvenile stage to adulthood. A full-grown blue crab will measure 8 inches or more across. During its lifetime, the male blue crab will go through about 27 molting cycles. In order for a blue crab to grow, the crab must lose its shell. The body of the new soft crab physically grows 30% larger, in less than 15 minutes. We, as commercial crabbers, harvest the peeler crab out of the bay and place it in natural water tanks on our dock. Captain Richard, THE Crab Expert, looks for a faint line next to the crab's paddle-like finlet (backfin) to determine the stage of each peeler crab. The color of this line will determine when the crab is about to shed its shell. A "green" crab is a crab that is just entering the shedding (or “molting” stage). The "green" crab will have a white line on the backfin and will most likely shed its shell in approximately 7 - 10 days. If the line is pink, the crab is likely to shed within 2 days. If the little line on the backfin is red, the crab is likely to shed its shell at any time. Captain Richard handles every crab in each tank daily, to determine the level of development through the shedding process. This labor intensive devotion ensures that the peeler and soft-shelled crabs are harvested at the perfect time.
At Coveside, we check our “ripe” peeler tanks for soft crabs every 2 hours, 24 hours a day. Soft crabs must be removed from the water within this window to ensure a truly premium product. After this time frame, the crab's shell begins to harden and is considered a “paper shell” crab. We offer you our soft crabs, with great pride, that reflects our devotion to the highest quality product. I call my soft crabs "my babies", because they are buttery soft and feel like the skin of a new born baby. Unlike any other commercial retailer of soft crabs, we invite you into our storage unit to touch (gently, please) our crabs and select the ones that are right for you and your family.
What You Need to Know About Grading (sizing) Soft-shell Crabs:
Just as there are NO INDUSTRY standards for grading hard crabs, the same is true of soft crabs. Our soft crabs are priced by size.
Sizes are measured from point to point on the shell.
You may see these general terms used:
Whales 5 1/2" Up (4.50 oz.), Jumbos 5" - 5 1/2" (3.25 oz.), Primes 4 1/2" - 5" (2.50 oz.) Hotels 4" - 4 1/2" (1.95 z.), Mediums 3 1/2" - 4" (1.45 oz)
Pretty confusing! At Coveside, we do not randomly label our soft crabs. Our largest soft crabs average 6 1/2" to 7 1/2", and some are even larger. The public never has the opportunity to purchase soft crabs of this size, because they are shipped directly to 5 star restaurants in major cities. This is not true at Coveside. We only sell our crabs directly to you!
Soft crabs are available from late May, early June through September. Although we have them shedding daily, there are two major shedding periods each season when we will have many, many soft crabs from which to choose. This is the ideal time to purchase them to freeze for that future special occasion!
Please call ahead to determine availability. Soft crabs do shed faster overnight, so the best time to purchase them is when we open in the mornings.
(And please be nice to us; after all, we have been up all night!) ~Lee