When buying soft-shell crabs, live ones are the best but they’re not always easy to find. To select the tastiest, use your nose. When fresh, they smell clean and astringent, like sea mist―a fitting aroma for a delicacy that both captures the romance of the sea and the allure of a full moon in spring.
1. To clean soft-shell crabs, hold the crab in one hand, and using a pair of kitchen shears, cut off the front of the crab, about 1/2 inch behind the eyes and mouth. Squeeze out the contents of the sack located directly behind the cut you just made.
2. Lift one pointed end of the crab’s outer shell; remove and discard the gills. Repeat on the other side.
3. Turn the crab over and snip off the small flap known as the apron. Rinse the entire crab well and pat dry. Once cleaned, crabs should be cooked or stored immediately.
Storing Soft-Shell Crabs
Soft-shell crabs are often stored at very cold temperatures to keep the shell from hardening and to prevent decomposition if they die. Store cleaned crabs wrapped in plastic wrap in the coldest part of the refrigerator for up to two days.
Soft-Shell Crab Sizes
Soft-shell crabs come in five sizes. The smallest, called mediums weigh about 2 ounces and measure 3 1/2 to 4 inches across the top. Hotels (2.5 ounces; 4 to 4 1/2 inches), primes (about 3 ounces; 4 1/2 to 5 inches), and jumbos (4 ½ ounces; 5 to 5 1/2 inches) are the more commonly found sizes. Whalers (about 6 ounces; 5 1/2 to 6 inches), the largest soft-shell crabs available, are reputed to be a bit on the tough side.