How to Prepare Soft Shell Crabs

The delicious soft shell crab…mmmmm soooo good….is a Chesapeake Bay regional specialty. A culinary delight that makes mouths water every time a softy dish is mentioned (the crabbers and I call em’ softies). In this guide we will tackle this delicacy- so you can easily prepare soft shell crabs at home.

A little aside… I am a (self proclaimed) softy expert/fanatic/#1 fan, it is my favorite food. While I was in culinary school (a million years ago), working at a restaurant, my chef had purchased some Chesapeake Bay ‘soft shell crabs’ from a regional ‘guy’ in Rhode Island. He unveiled his box of softies to the group with oooohs and aahhhhs from the other (non-Maryland, I feel I should point out) cooks and a eeeeek gasp from me. Puzzled looks from the chef and co-cooks as I picked up one of his crabs, gave it a gentle perfunctory poke and proclaimed…”these aren’t soft shell crabs, these are paper shell, almost full hard shell”. “PAPER SHELL!!!!” Chef blurted, “that’s made up, there is no such thing as a paper shell crab-who are you kidding”…followed by more angry chef ranting. I gave him a quick, albeit respectful and dutiful soft shell crab lesson (one you’ll read below) and pulled out my Maryland drivers license. The MD drivers license has a lovely little blue crab in the corner. While I pointed to that little corner crab, I said, “this gives me the knowledge to tell you that you’ve been ripped off”. Yeah, I was a cocky little culinary student…


What is a soft shell crab anyway?

As a crab develops it needs to shed it’s external exoskeleton shell to grow larger. The crab will wiggle free from it’s smaller shell and emerge a little larger and much softer. It will take a few days for the new shell to harden, going through a few stages; soft shell—> paper shell —-> hard shell. Eating a paper shell crab is like eating a tough and chewy potato chip-not very enjoyable.

The ideal soft shell crab is one caught as soon as it sheds. The talented Maryland crabbers know this well and work very hard to time their softies perfectly. Cameron’s Seafood works with families that have been crabbing for generations-these crabbers are the softy experts (no self proclamation needed-they’ve earned it).


How to prepare soft shell crabs

The best preparation for soft shell crabs is achieved by a simply soaking the crabs in seasoned buttermilk, dredging in flour and pan frying.

How to prepare soft shell crabs

The best preparation for soft shell crabs is achieved by a simply soaking the crabs in seasoned buttermilk, dredging in flour and pan frying. For 6 softies.


Soft shell:

  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon Old Bay Seafood Seasoning
  • 6 Cameron’s Seafood Maryland Soft Shell Crabs
  • 1 stick or 1/2 cup clarified butter recipe below
  • 2 cups AP flour
  • lemon wedges for a citrus squeeze

Clarified butter:

  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter cut into 1 inch pieces


Soft shells:

  1. Whisk buttermilk with salt and Old Bay in a large bowl. Place soft shell crabs in a large casserole dish and pour over buttermilk mixture, making sure to coat the crabs completely. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
  2. In a large skillet over medium high heat melt half of your clarified butter (you’ll be frying in stages).
  3. Remove crabs from buttermilk and let any excess mixture drip off. Dredge crabs in flour and carefully place in hot butter, working with 2-3 crabs at a time (depending on the size of your skillet, do not over crowd).
  4. Fry crabs for 2-3 minutes per side or until crispy, golden brown and cooked thoroughly. Let drain on a wire rack or paper towels.
  5. Pour off any excess clarified butter and wipe out your skillet. Heat the remaining butter and repeat steps 3 and 4 for the remaining crabs.

Clarified butter:

  1. Heat butter in a medium pot over low heat until melted. Remove from heat and let sit for 2 minutes. Using a spoon, skim off the fluffy frothy top. Slowly pour skimmed mixture into a bowl, leaving the milk solids at the bottom (discard the milk solids). Keep refrigerated until ready to use.

Serving options:

  1. -Serve with a little squeeze of lemon and your favorite cocktail or tartar sauce.
  2. -Serve sandwich style on nice fluffy buns with lettuce, tomato, pickles and either tartar sauce or spicy remoulade.
  3. -Serve taco style with corn or flour tortillas, shredded lettuce, pico de gallo, guacamole, shredded jack cheese, sour cream and a little hot sauce.

Buy Maryland Soft Shell Crabs Online

Cameron’s Seafood provides some of the best softies around and they’re available at our online store. As we say, ‘from shore to door, 3 days fresher than the grocery store’-all of our seafood is delivered right to your door when you schedule it, guaranteed!

We’d love to see how you cook soft shell crabs. Post your softy ideas, recipes and delicious food images to any of our social accounts-Instagram, Facebook or Twitter be sure to tag us @cameronsseafoodonline.

By: Patterson Watkins

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