In the weeks before the first soft-shell crab crops up on a Charleston menu, the anticipation is intense: Who's going to serve them? When? How? The prospect of ever getting one's fill of the time-bound delicacy feels unimaginable.
Where to eat soft-shells
Soft-shell crabs are available for sale at markets including Huff's Seafood and Stono Farm market, but if you'd rather leave the cleaning and cooking to the pros, the following restaurants were offering soft-shell crab specials at presstime. Other local restaurants also may get in on the soft-shell act, so don't fret if your favorite dining room is missing. And because soft-shell availability ebbs and flows, it's worth calling ahead to make sure soft-shells are on the menu.
Closed for Business
Lee Lee's Hot Kitchen
Locklear's Lowcountry Grill
Old Village Post House
Rutledge Cab Co.
Two Boroughs Larder
The 'Wich Doctor
Xiao Bao Biscuit
But once the soft-shells hit, they're everywhere. Thus far this year, they've shared space atop a squid ink brioche roll with bacon and lettuce at The Ordinary, worn tempura batter at Husk and joined a spring onion-and-parmesan fritter at High Cotton. Soft-shells also have appeared at less ritzy restaurants, including Closed for Business and Rutledge Cab Co. If eaters fail to eat enough soft-shells this season, they have only themselves to blame.
Here, seven more soft-shell truths:
1. A soft-shell crab is soft because it's tossed off its exoskeleton and hasn't yet grown any replacement armor. The upshot for eaters is soft-shells can be eaten whole; no cracking required.
2. Once a crab sheds its shell, it remains in its naked, unprotected state for just a few short hours before sprouting a new exoskeleton. To make sure they don't miss the soft-shell window, harvesters capture crabs before they molt and then keep them in a holding tank.
3. Before frying, soft-shells qualify as a healthy snack, with stats roughly analogous to those of a hard-boiled egg. A soft-shell crab has 83 calories.
4. Crabs around the world are served up in their soft-shell state, but blue crabs reign along the Atlantic coast.
5. The interplay of a soft-shell crab's salty-sweet flavor and its distinctive crispness largely accounts for the critter's tabletop popularity, so don't undermine its texture by steaming or boiling. Softies taste best when deep-fried, pan-fried, broiled or grilled. Deep-frying is the most common way of preparing a soft-shell: When plopped between two slices of white bread with a tomato slice and mayo, it's known as a "spider sandwich."
6. If purchasing soft-shell crabs from a seafood market, look for crabs with their appendages attached. The crabs shouldn't be wrapped in cellophane. And while it's fine to ask a fishmonger to clean live crabs for you, be wary of soft-shells that were cleaned before packaging.
7. According to folklore, crabs like to ditch their exoskeletons under a full moon: The soft-shell season's start is often pegged to the first full moon in May. But there's no scientific evidence linking crab behavior to lunar cycles. It's possible that spring tides, which are correlated with moon phases, provide more protection for molting crabs.