In the US, the term ‘soft-shell’ crabs refers to blue crabs that have just recently shed their hard
‘exoskeleton’. They are soft for about 2 to 3 hours; then their shell starts to turn hard again.
While the shell is soft, the entire crab is edible. Found especially off the gulf coast of Mexico,
from Louisiana, and from the colder waters of Chesapeake Bay, soft shell crabs appear in US
markets from April through September.
Soft shell crabs are a seasonal Venetian treat as well. There they are referred to as moleche.
These crabs are a different species than found in the US. They are smaller (about 2-3 inches),
and are available twice a year in the fall and spring. The moleche fishermen of Venice
(molecanti) are masters as managing the molting process of their harvest. The trick is to identify
those crabs that are just about to molt from those that are not; the former are stored in tanks
until they have molted, at which point they are taken to markets.
Soft-shelled crabs have a rich flavor; one per person can make a perfect first course served with
pasta or a salad , or as the filling for a delicious sandwich.
1/4 cup olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
4 soft-shell crabs, cleaned *
12-16 ounces linguine or spaghetti
2 cups dry white wine
1 cup seeded and diced plum tomatoes
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over low heat. Add the garlic and red
pepper flakes; cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the crabs, cover, and cook over low
to medium-low for 10 minutes. Turn the crabs over halfway through the cooking
time. When the crabs are done, transfer to a plate and tent with foil to keep
While the crabs are cooking, bring a pot of salted water to a boil.
Cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than the recommended cooking time.
After removing the crabs, add 2 cups of wine to the skillet. Bring the wine to a
boil and reduce by half. Add the diced tomatoes; cook over medium-high heat
for about 3 minutes. Stir in the butter and cook to thicken slightly, about 1
minute. Season the sauce with salt and pepper; stir in the parsley.
Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce in the skillet; toss gently to combine.
Allow the pasta to cook in the sauce for 2 minutes. Transfer the pasta to a
serving platter. Cut the crabs into pieces with kitchen shears. Place the crab
pieces on top of the pasta and serve. (Alternately, top each serving with one
crab and allow each person to cut their own.)
To Clean Soft Shell Crabs:
You can ask your fishmonger to clean the crabs for you.
Here is the technique if you wish to do it yourself.
To clean a soft-shell crab, you must first remove the ‘face’ of the crab. This is
most easily done with a pair of kitchen shears. Make a quick cut across the
top of the crab, removing the eyes and ‘head’. The next step is to remove the
apron. Flip the crab over on its back, and you will find a large flap which you
can pull away from the crab. Again using kitchen shears, cut this flap off.
Some people also like to remove the lungs, which you can do through the cut
you made as you removed the head.