In the shallow waters of bays, sounds, and channels scattered along the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts to Texas, travelers from inland areas have sometimes observed an unusual sight. A child attaches a large piece of meat to a string, drops it into the water, and jerks up a large crab whose pincers are clamped to the meat. The crab is secured by another child standing by with a net.

Actually, when one considers what savory dishes crabs make, it is no wonder that the sport is as profitable as it is fun. The crab is caught and marketed in both the hard-shelled and soft-shelled stages. Soft-shelled crabs especially are considered delicacies. What exactly is a soft-shelled crab? First, it is important to understand that the young crab sheds ( or molts) about 15 times before reaching maturity (during their second summer). When the shell splits and the crab backs out of it, soft-shelled crab fishermen are alert to this change. They watch for the color of the crab to turn red. At this point, the crab (called a “buster”) is ready to emerge from the shell. This shedding takes about 2 or 3 hours. Within 9 to 12 hours, the outer skin is paper-thin and at this stage the crab is known as a soft-shelled crab. After a short cooking period, the entire body can be eaten. Frying is the preferred cooking method.

Crab fanciers should keep one thing in mind. When crabmeat is purchased, whether blue crab or Alaskan King crab, it should be refrigerated until ready for use.

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