Crab season is running a little late this year,
but the wait will be worth it.
~ STORY AND PHOTOS BY ELIZABETH ROSE ~
Soft shell crab with lump crab meat
Just as crawfish season comes to a close, the blue crabs begin to arrive from the Gulf. They’re tossed into the boiling water and spicy seasoning and emerge with bright red backs and white meat ready for salads, stews or on its own.
Crab season generally peaks between March and June, but this year’s unseasonably cold weather has delayed the crops, so expect crab availability to spike during the summer. With that spike will come fresh boiled crabs at the region’s boil houses, as well as crab cakes at every restaurant imaginable.
With their blue tint and 10 legs, blue crabs scuttle across bottom lands while living in the Gulf’s bays and estuaries, finding their homes in marshes that provide protection and an abundance of grub. Its scientific name, Callinectes sapidus, means “savory beautiful swimmer,” and those who have eaten crabs before can attest. Louisiana brings in about 26 percent of the nation’s blue crab catch, translating into 41.6 million pounds valued at $32 million in 2008, according to NOAA — that’s five times more than Florida, Texas, Alabama and Mississippi combined.
Poor Boy's Riverside Inn
Lump crabmeat sauteed in butter with Cajun Crabfingers
Louisiana, along with being one of the largest consumers of blue crabs, is also the only state other than Florida where soft shell blue crabs are available. Soft shell crab season also peaks during the summer and the catch is generally considered a restaurant-only delicacy. These crabs are the same as those with shells, but they molt their exoskeleton in order to grow. It’s a quick process — they shed the shell, growing by about a third of their size with every molting, and the new shell begins to harden within three hours. In order to take advantage of the soft outer layer, it is imperative to remove them from the water during those few hours so the shell remains soft.
The favored way to serve soft shell crabs down South is battered and deep fried, sometimes covered with sauce and other times sandwiched between two pieces of bread. These crabs always need direct heat to create the distinct crispy skin, so they’re never boiled — pan- or deep-fried is the way to go, though barbecued crab is a new trend starting to take hold. They don’t need to be peeled or cracked, only trimmed and cleaned, so it’s a much less labor-intensive process than digging into boiled crabs, but few things satisfy the way a properly boiled crab can.
Though the best way to crack a crab is a matter of personal preference, The IND has surveyed regular crab consumers and compiled an idiot-proof guide to peeling and eating a crab in order to get the most meat out of your work. Let’s get cracking!
1. Using one of the crab's legs, push open the crab’s underbelly. Pull the underbelly out and up, taking the outer shell with it.
2. Once the crab's insides are exposed, clean out the chest cavity to remove the lungs and organs.
3. Using a knife, crack the soft shell on the crab’s underside.
4. Break the crab in half.
5. Separate the leg sections, chipping away shell from around the meat.
6. To access the lump crabmeat, tear off the first leg section.
7. To access claw meat, crack the claw at the knuckle and pull the sections apart.
8. Crack the claw with a claw cracker or a knife and pull away remaining shell pieces to reveal the meat inside.