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Soft-Shell Crab Season 101: What You Need to Know

It’s time to ditch the crab shell cracker, because soft-shell crab season in the Lowcountry has arrived. Beginning late spring and lasting through summer, this highly anticipated time of year gives Lowcountry locals and visitors a taste of the Atlantic blue crab without the hassle of prying meat from its typically hard shell. And luckily, the estuaries flowing into Kiawah River’s meandering, salty waterways are stocked full of “softies.”

Whether you enjoy them fried, grilled, sautéed or stuffed into a sandwich, we’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you need to know about this year’s soft-shell crab season.

    What is a soft-shell crab?

    The term “soft-shell” refers to the Atlantic blue crab’s transitional phase when the crustacean creates an inner soft shell and pops out of its hard shell to accommodate for summertime growth. This transition can take days to complete, making it the perfect time to catch the crabs at their softest, most delicious stage.  Depending on when the full moon occurs, soft-shell crab season generally takes place a few weeks before or after Easter.

    Where to get them:

    Kiawah River is a one-stop-shop for fresh blue crabs, and there’s no better time to celebrate softie season than during the Lowcountry Local First’s annual Eat Local Month, which takes place each April. During this month, many of the Charleston area’s Local restaurants like the Royal Tern, located a short drive from Kiawah River on Johns Island, serve up batches of local soft-shells to satisfy your softie cravings.

    If you’re searching for softies to-go, Blackbird Market on Johns Island and Seafood Alley Fresh Seafood Market in downtown Charleston are two of our go-to spots for local, fresh crabs. (Expert tip: Atlantic blue crabs should be alive up until a few hours before they’re cooked, so make sure the crustaceans are still moving before you take them home.)

      Preparation:

      While you can cook a softie straight from the sea, we highly recommended cleaning the crabs to avoid any tough or chewy bites. Once the crabs are clean, you’re ready to turn up the heat. One of our favorite ways to prepare soft-shell crabs is to follow chef Jason Stanhope of Charleston’s award-winning restaurant FIG’s sautéed crab recipe, as featured in Garden & Gun.

      First, gather your ingredients.

      >       Add butter to a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. When butter is melted and just foaming, add the crab, belly-side down. Sauté for several minutes or until the belly begins to brown.

      >       Flip the crab and cook for several more minutes, basting regularly with melted butter. Add the ramps, if desired, and continue to spoon the butter over both the crab and the ramps for another minute before removing them from the skillet.

      For the pea pesto: (Makes about 1 quart)

      >       Coat the entire head of garlic with olive oil, wrap it in foil, and roast it at 350 degrees until tender and sweet, about an hour. Cut the head open and squeeze out the soft garlic inside. Measure 2 tablespoons for the pesto and save the rest for another project.

      >       Blanch the fresh peas in boiling water until bright green and tender, 3-4 minutes. Then shock them immediately in ice water. Alternately, thaw your frozen peas. Drain peas, add them to a food processor with all other ingredients, and pulse until smooth.

      As any Lowcountry local will tell you, soft-shell crab season is as equally short as it is sweet. Whether it’s your first bite or you’ve been a life-long fan of softies, there’s no fresher or better taste than a soft-shell plucked right from the sparkling saltwater riverside at Kiawah River.

      Photos by Jason Stemple, Linda Schneider and Peter Frank Edwards