Beyond their versatility,
crunchy-soft texture, and
sweet sea taste, the soft
shell crab has a special appeal—
a mystique, almost—that stems from
their fleeting, seasonal nature.
While other hallmarks of spring are procured year-round
from convenient grocery shelves, the magic of
soft shell crabs abides. Atlantic soft shells are elusive as
ever, thrilling us chefs and our guests alike with an early spring
debut, and teasing us with sporadic appearances
throughout the summer months.
When the salty waters off the coast of Maryland and the Carolinas grow slightly warmer, the mid-Atlantic’s blue crabs literally burst from their shells, experiencing a 30 percent growth spurt that leaves them protected by only a thin, pliable exoskeleton. Timing is critical; the crabs must be harvested within hours of molting for prime texture and to prevent their being eaten by predators. Their limited availability, along with the vigilance their harvesting necessitates, results in an average wholesale price of $2.50 -$3. But the cost is well worth it.