Crabs are crustaceans, and crustaceans are invertebrates, meaning they don't have a spinal column but rather a rigid exoskeleton (a.k.a. hard shell). To grow larger, the crab must shed its smaller shell and grow another one through a process called molting. Crabs fatten up to make it through the molting ordeal, which means they're especially flavorful right after they ditch the old shell. Their new shells are only soft for two to three hours, so it's kind of an ephemeral thing.
Here in the States, we eat blue crabs in their soft-shell state. Maryland and Virginia are famous for blue crabs, which live in the Chesapeake Bay, but other Southern states have blue crabs, too.
Now that you're fired up to give them a try, here are three places that do an exceptional job with soft-shell crab.
At Quiessence, chef de cuisine Tony Andiario makes the entire dish a tribute to late spring-early summer. On the plate: two crisp-fried jumbo soft shell crabs, served with purple baby artichokes and the first squash of the season. Shaved into long, thin strips and tossed in EVOO and red wine vinegar, the zucchini becomes a raw, marinated slaw-like salad, amped up with shaved red onion, wild Italian mint, and red pepper flakes. Swish the crab in a puddle of tart-sweet vinaigrette, composed of garlic, shallots, and hothouse tomato puree ($40).