It’s Soft-Shell Crab SeasonPosted: May 24, 2011
I must confess. Before moving to Richmond, I had never heard of soft-shell crabs. Then after hearing soft-shell crab sandwiches mentioned as a special in Richmond restaurants for several years, I finally decided that I had to try one. (If my memory serves, my inaugural soft-shell sandwich was served at Sam Miller’s Restaurant in Shockoe Slip.) I remember thinking that this soft-shell was interesting and must be an acquired taste. Since that first one, I have continued to try them whenever they are offered as a menu special, and while not yet a connoisseur, I know a fresh soft-shell crab when I taste it.
Their appearance on the specials list is usually one of the first harbingers of summer, my favorite season of the year. According to a delightful article by Jane Black, “They Had to Hand It to Me, How the Charms of True Soft-Shells Subdued My Inner Crab” in The Washington Post, molting season for blue crabs runs from mid-May to September in the Chesapeake Bay when its waters have begun to warm. The absolute peak season is considered to occur between the first full moon of May and early June.
During peak season, crabbers look for the tell-tale sign that any of their catch is about to shed their shell: a pale pink or red color on the crab’s swimming fin. They hustle these babies to the seafood processors who keep a trained eye carefully watching for the shell to slip off. Once that miracle happens, the processor has to quickly get them to market as their peak of freshness only lasts about 2 days. Fortunately for Richmonders, our restaurants are close enough to the Bay that we can expect a fresh soft-shell crab when we find it listed as a menu special.
Since May 17th marked the first full moon of May, we have just hit peak season for soft-shells. When I found myself at a well-regarded seafood restaurant yesterday at lunch time and a soft-shell crab sandwich was the only special offered, guess what I had to order? I didn’t even read the Water Grill’s menu. My lunch companion and I both choose the soft-shell served on ciabatta bread with a remoulade sauce on the side and coleslaw.
As we sat under its red umbrellas on its Carytown patio on a warm summer-feeling day, the Water Grill and its soft-shell did not disappoint. We both ate up all of its lightly fried goodness. As I dug in, my crab squirted its briny juice, a sure sign of freshness. A true foodie might turn his nose up at a fried version and demand only a sautéed soft-shell. I’m no foodie, and a little frying never gets in the way of my enjoyment so long as it is fresh. Yes, the Water Grill’s offering was fresh. In fact, the whole lunch experience at the Water Grill was fabulous.
Like any good seasonal food, I will avadly seek out soft-shells for the next month until I have had my fill. I may even try to sauté my own here at home. A couple of my friends have told me how easy it is, and now that I have done a little research on soft-shells for this blog post, I think that I’ve got up my nerve. Can’t wait to see what my kids think ;-).
Second photo by Avad Fan.