Soft shell crabs are blue crabs harvested just after they have molted or shed their shell and before the new one hardens. Soft shell crabs are available traditionally in June, July and August, but techniques have been developed which allow crabs to be held in tanks and persuaded to molt almost when required, so that the soft shell season has been greatly extended.
Soft shell crab have a distinct full flavor and the thin paper shell adds a beautiful richness. Many say this is the ultimate way to eat blue crab, because of the pure crab flavor.
Soft shell crabs are taken in traps and the fisherman are able to recognize when the crabs are about to molt and also are able to keep crabs in cages in the sea, or in tanks on shore, until the right moment. The molting process takes only a couple of hours and the crab must be removed from the water within one to two hours of shedding its shell, or the new shell will already be hardening and turning leathery; crabs in this condition are called paper shells or buckrams. The crabs must be 3.5 inches tip to tip on the carapace in order to be harvested and sold.