Yeah, you do — and savor every bite while you’re at it. Because sautéed in butter or deep-fried, soft-shell crabs are everything — crispy, tender and with a sweet kiss of sea mist to boot. These crustaceans are one of nature’s all-you-can-eat delights, since, except for the face and a couple other icky parts, you eat it all — body, claws, shell — the whole shebang. Appetite whetted? They’re in season from mid-spring to early fall. In fact, they’ve already crawled their way into fish markets like Citarella and hot buffets at eateries like Essen in New York.
Softies — blue crabs in the U.S. — are just what the name says. As they grow, crabs periodically shed their old hard shells, which exposes a new soft shell that eventually hardens. Until it toughens up, the crab is basically naked and vulnerable — and ready for dinner. Yours. Crabs need to be in water for shells to harden, so softies are removed from the water as soon as they molt to prevent any hardening of their shells. That’s the science part. Now the fun part — eating.
Because they have such a short life span, buy softies live — and select ones with all the legs and claws intact. “If you buy cleaned crabs, you don’t know how long they’ve been dead,” said Bill Telepan, executive chef at the Theater District seafood restaurant Oceana. If you’re squeamish and don’t want to clean crabs yourself have a fish monger clean them for you. But cook them as soon as possible after that for max flavor.