Soft Shell Crab Season

It’s spring and soft shell crabs are just beginning to fill the stalls of our local farmer’s markets. Because of our warmer waters the season usually runs from about early April until late October. Soft shell crab is a favorite of mine and can be found on many restaurant menus locally. If you’re not a huge fan of the food or are just hesitant to try the not so crusty crustaceans, try a fried soft shell crab from The Galley, in my opinion, the best po-boy at Jazz Fest. If you’re a little braver and want to cook them at home, here are a few tips you should keep in mind.

Buy them alive. Ideally buy them still kicking. For obvious reason they will be at their freshest when recently caught. I picked up two this morning at the Crescent City Farmers Market, but be sure to get there early. If you can’t find them live then be sure to buy fresh. This means before they are frozen! If you buy them locally, good quality soft shell crab will keep, at the very least, for a few days in a cold cooler. That shelf life obviously grows smaller the farther away you are from the source. Most of the crabs we eat here are local to Louisiana, but they are also popular in the Carolinas and Maryland. If you have no choice but to buy fresh or frozen be sure to watch out for any sort of ammonia scent, slimy texture or overly soft body, these are all indications that your crab may not be safe to eat.

Once you have your soft shell crab you will need to prep it to cook. Unlike boil crabs, you can’t just toss them in a pot. There are three steps you must take before cooking and eating.

Remove the lungs. This is fairly easy to do on a soft shell crab. Gain access to each side of the lungs by raising the pointed end of the top shell. Be careful not to pull the top shell off completely though. When you raise the shell it will be clear what to remove. The lungs are light and fibrous, in small almost webbed sections. Cut these sections off as close to the body as possible. Remove lungs on both sides of the shell.


Remove the apron. Flip your crab upside down and you’ll see a small flap called the Apron. Pull this piece of flesh down and cut it away, as close to the body as possible.


Remove the head. You don’t want to eat the head, eyes and mouth. I’m fairly sloppy when I cut this portion of the crab off, and simply cut horizontally along the upper part of the fish from the eyes up. If you want to be more detailed take a pair of kitchen shears and cut a triangle shaped section out of the top, front of the crab, removing the entire head.


As for cooking, you can’t go wrong with a fried soft shell crab, but there are as many ways to cook soft shell crab as there are to cook fish.

I prefer to season and saute in butter until brown. Remove from heat and add a little lemon juice, mustard and capers to the sauce. It’s tangy and rich and goes really well with the strong flavor of the crab.