photo credit: Grind Rest. – Chef Preston

Northeast Seafood only offers fresh USA Atlantic Blue Crab during the soft shell crab molting season.  The term soft shell crab does not refer to a specific species of crab, but does identify a life-cycle stage called molting, which is an annual event when crabs grow too big for their shells.  They shed their smaller shell to then grow into a bigger one.  The molting process takes a couple days from beginning to end, but each crab enters the molting stage sometime during the summer months.  What this means to us, soft shell crabs are available all summer long!

Handy has been a longtime partner of Northeast Seafood, dating back to when we first opened the doors in 1980.  Handy Seafood is America’s oldest seafood processor and was established in 1894 by John T. Handy and has been in Crisfield, Maryland since 1903.  They continue to be a family-owned company with a focus on quality and trustworthy transparency.

Handy specializes in the processing of Chesapeake Bay’s best-known delicacy, soft shell crabs. Over the years, Handy has invented new processing techniques for soft shell crabs, patented packaging, and developed new recipes. They have introduced the world’s first and only certified gluten-free crab cakes.

Handy is a founding member of the National Fisheries Institute (NFI) Crab Council.  The USA Blue Crab is rated BEST CHOICE by Monterey Bay Seafood Watch. Handy became a part of the FDA’s Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points program (HACCP) before it became mandatory and are annually inspected by Silliker, a recognized independent auditing firm, that has given them a “gold” rating – a ranking attained by less than 10% of the plants it inspects.

Do you want your soft shell crab Live and Dressed?  This has always been a controversial topic for Colorado.  When the crab is caught it fights in the crab trap, is brought on-board a boat that can be very warm in the summer, sorted at the processing facility by size, brought down in temperature for packaging (ideal temperature for live soft shell is 50 degrees), and shipped to Colorado.  If you are on the ocean in Maryland, an alive soft shell crab will have the strength to craw, but they are in a weak state as all of their energy is going into the rejuvenation of their hard shell.  This fragile state can make a crab tire very quickly.   In May, soft shell crab season averages temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees on Chesapeake Bay, and in June / July / Aug they continue to increase.  Live soft shells have a much better chance of survival in May when they first become available.  We recommend live soft shells thru May and into the beginning of June, but once we hit the heat of the summer, it’s time to switch to dressed.

Handy always dresses crab at the peak of their freshness.  Dressing the crab immediately will add more days of shelf-life to the crab thru the shipping process.  This is because the crab can be stored at a lower temperature (32-degrees) than an alive crab, and leads to a fresher product that last longer.

We hope you have enjoyed Handy brand soft shell crabs as much as we have over the years.  We also carry frozen soft shell crab from Handy, so this excellent product is available year round!

Chad Pettrone
Sustainability Director
Northeast Seafood