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soft shell crab

s
srqmike Nov 12, 2012 08:34 AM

I'll be in NOLA in December. Will any restaurants be serving soft shell crab or is the season over?

  1. f
    foodophyle Nov 15, 2012 08:58 AM

    I lived at a crab dock in south Louisiana for a month after Katrina, and its owned by my oldest and dearest friend. Hungry Celeste is "spot on" with her information. I worked in the shedding station in 2005, and whenever we visit, I adore helping in the softshell station. Its a fascinating procedure, but is very time consuming. The shells begin to harden immediately after molting and if not removed from the water within an hour or so, the shell becomes too hard to sell as soft. Also, the unmolted crabs, will eat the soft ones. Finally, as stated by Celeste, many die during the process, or are not saleable due to missing legs, parts etc. (I have a bag of frozen nuggets in my freezer right now which if I did not enjoy so much, would challenge the naysayers above who say the frozen do not taste as good as fresh.) Hence, the high cost of soft shell crabs. The fact that amazed me was that for retail sales, the dock allows the shell to harden slightly to improve the life for shipping of live softshells. I personally prefer them as soft as possible, and the nuggets are generally really soft, unless you have poor employees not culling the trays to remove the fresh molted crabs from the water.

    Here is a photo of me with a box of 4 dozen "perfect" crabs ready to go in the cooler and be shipped to restaurants, retailers, seafood markets. The live ones can sit in the cooler 2-3 days before shipment, and who knows how long they are kept alive, or not, beforeconsumption.
    However, The nuggets are packaged immediately in air vaccummed bags of 12, and flash frozen. Perfect crabs sell for about $5 each, and I don't know how much a dozen costs as my friend won't let me pay for them. I eat the nuggets and have never had better!

     
    1 Reply
    1. re: foodophyle
      h
      Hungry Celeste Nov 15, 2012 12:32 PM

      Nothing like the tangy smell of saltwater and seafood at a dock, especially on a hot day in August. Mmm hmm.

    2. Bill Hunt Nov 12, 2012 06:09 PM

      For once, I disagree with Hazelhurst. I do not think that soft-shells freeze well, but that is my palate.

      Now, many suppliers are working to "help" blue crabs molt on command, so the "season" has been expanded.

      For me, and even considering some of the "forced" soft-shells, that I have dined on, I am pretty much locked in eating them "in season."

      Even at the beginning, or the end of the natural "season," some chefs just refuse the crabs, and will not serve them. Chef Frank Brigtsen comes immediately to my mind. If things are not perfect - no soft-shells on the menu. I respect that.

      With all the other seafood in NOLA, I would just look elsewhere, but that is just me.

      Enjoy,

      Hunt

      6 Replies
      1. re: Bill Hunt
        h
        hazelhurst Nov 13, 2012 05:48 AM

        I've encountered the texxture problem before as well but many people whose expertise surp[asses mine will swear by "properly frozen" crabs. I gather that there are different methods..it is not like throwingt themin your home freezer which never works. At the same time, frozen lump crabhmeat has never--that I know of--worked on me. A chef friend has said that the high water content of soft shells is what makes them work better....well, if tyou deep fat fry them, who really cares? I have noticed it in suateed, though, but I am sure I have been fooled by a good frozen one. I like to think the waiters level with me since I have spent a lifetime learning (and enjoying) elements of teh trade's mendacity.

        1. re: hazelhurst
          Bill Hunt Nov 13, 2012 06:28 PM

          You could well be correct. Perhaps I have just never had "good" frozen soft-shells.

          There could well be some frozen crabs, that I did not pick up on, but then I order in the season, so why? Now, I have had BAD frozen soft-shells, and they have been horribly obvious.

          Most of the "noticed" ones WERE sauteed.

          Hunt

        2. re: Bill Hunt
          h
          Hungry Celeste Nov 13, 2012 07:22 AM

          There is no "forcing" or encouraging a crab to molt. You can tell if a crab is within two weeks of molting by examining the rear leg's last flipper...it will show a "white line" demonstrating the new shell growing beneath the old. This spot will show a "red line" within a few days of shedding. Crabbers sell white & red line crabs to shedding operations, which do nothing more than hold the crabs in circulating-water tanks until they shed. The process is entirely natural.

          The natural shedding season is year-round in warmer waters, and the Atlantic blue crab ranges all the way down to Brazil. Granted, the crab's growth rate slows dramatically as coastal waters cool off in the fall. Most shedding operations in south LA shut down in October, depending on weather.

          If you want to geek out on all things crab, check out http://www.bluecrab.info/

          I'll eat a properly handled, quickly frozen crab. In fact, I'd rather a very soft frozen crab over an older and thus harder live softshell crab. I like 'em tender and not chewy. Many shedding operations allow crabs shipped live to remain in the tanks for slightly longer, as the firmer crab has a better survival rate than a super softy.

          If you love softshells but don't love the price, ask your seafood market for broken crabs, a/k/a nuggets. Sometimes a crab will get stuck halfway through molting, will tear off a few legs, or otherwise not be so perfect and pretty. Shedding houses usually freeze these crabs immediately, and they're a fraction of the price of the whole crabs.

          1. re: Hungry Celeste
            h
            hazelhurst Nov 13, 2012 07:27 AM

            I was hoping for your authoratative voice to chime in. Many thanks

            1. re: Hungry Celeste
              Bill Hunt Nov 13, 2012 06:35 PM

              Interesting. Several studies point to the light-dark cycles being responsible for the molting, and tests have yielded molting in shorter time spans. The tests have been essentially placing the crabs into an interior building, then basically doing a "strobe light" effect, accelerating the cycle.

              Hunt

              1. re: Hungry Celeste
                Uncle Bob Nov 15, 2012 10:41 AM

                Standing Ovation Celeste!!!

            2. h
              hazelhurst Nov 12, 2012 08:57 AM

              Providers do fairly well keeping them in supply almost throughout the year but cold winters are a problem. Still, they freeze very well and most folks are hard pressed to tell the difference between fresh and "fresh frozen." I've had them at Xmas Eve dinner many times...other times the waiter won't serve them even if I demanded...not that I would.

              3 Replies
              1. re: hazelhurst
                Bacardi1 Nov 12, 2012 09:00 AM

                I don't care for frozen soft-shell crabs at all. Only buy & enjoy them alive & kicking during the season when they're available that way. To me, the frozen ones taste overly "fishy".

                1. re: Bacardi1
                  h
                  hazelhurst Nov 12, 2012 09:10 AM

                  It can vary a lot but I always have mine sueteed with garlic and artichoke heart ad whatever else I feel like. I've had bad ones that cannot survive even that but mostly they come out right tasty. A few years ago at an Italan place the regulars..and owners..were raving over some excellent one..they came from SE Asia.

                2. re: hazelhurst
                  Bill Hunt Nov 12, 2012 06:21 PM

                  Hazelhurst,

                  I have been served many frozen soft-shelled crabs, and have never enjoyed any. Not saying that I can always tell, but all too often, I can, and do not like the frozen versions. The tastes differ, and the texture is usually a give-away for me.

                  A few years back, I almost got into a fist-fight with a chef in Virginia, over his "fresh, Chesapeake Bay soft-shells. They were supposed to be fresh, and several vouched for that freshness. They were long frozen, and I called them on it. The chef came out, and argued that they were alive that morning. I demanded to see them, and they were in frozen bags, with a date the year before. I wanted to feed his 10" chef's knife down his throat. That was not "fresh" by any stretch, and was obvious, at least to me.

                  Hunt

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