Carolina Crabbing: Sampling Soft Shells at Seaview Crab Co.

Yesterday I left Wilmington, North Carolina, and drove the five/six hours south to St. Simons, Georgia. I stopped once to grab a sandwich and a coffee, but other than that I was cruising, the windows down and the music up, the sunroof open.

I must say: Subway really took me to the cleaners. It’s one of the few widely available sandwich options on a road trip (beats the hell out of 500-calorie cheeseburgers when you need a quick bite), however it would be nice if the footlong sandwiches contained more than a few thin slices of pathetic meat.

Jared lost weight because he ate a roll and vegetables every day – just saying.

Anyway, a few minutes ago I returned from a flat out feast at the King and Prince in St. Simons – one in which I participated in the preparation – but I’ll save that story for the next few days, when the photos come my way and I can think about food again (I am pleasantly full, yet full nonetheless).

I am here on a southern culinary swing – specifically cuisine and fare from the Peach State – although the entire trip down from the northeast has revolved around food up to this point. The reason for stopping in Wilmington was to chow down on some seafood – specifically crabs.

I had the opportunity to experience first hand how the boys at Seaview Crab Company (located on Carolina Beach Road) run their seafood business (it’s already a local staple and soon-to-be featured on the Travel Channel’s Off Limits). I was ready to get my hands dirty, grab some friends and some beer and a picnic table and let the afternoon fade away. However, the current kings of Carolina crab had a surprise for me: They wanted to introduce me to the soft-shell crab.

Soft-shell crab sandwich.

If you’ve never had one, it’s quite the experience. No shell crackers or tiny forks required – you literally eat the entire crab whole, insides and out, legs and claws and all (minus the head and gills, which are removed). It’s quite easy to picture: I was literally served a breaded, fried crab on two slices of toasted bread.

Similar to the way a snake sheds its skin, crabs do the same thing. When the outer layer comes off they naturally develop another shell, however it can take five or six hours for that new shell to harden. This is where diligence comes in when it comes to the crabber: Removing the crab from the water prevents the shell from hardening, but there is a big difference between one that shed an hour ago and one that shed three hours ago – that’s where the quality and softness of the crab are determined.

Honesty: I tried a soft-shell crab once before and really wasn’t a fan. The outer layer was tough and dry, like the skin on an overdone turkey. This experience was much better – I really enjoyed it. It was breaded with Panko for texture and fried quickly, and once I got over the fact that I was biting into legs and claws that are usually hard, I found it to be absolutely delicious (and much less work than cracking shells).

Seaview’s commitment to freshness is obvious, especially when they start talking about how they take turns waking up every few hours during the night to check on the crabs, to see if any have shed (remember, even an hour or two delay will impact the softness).

That’s commitment, my friends, and it makes for not only one hell of a sandwich, but one hell of a business. Be sure to sample the wahoo and swordfish as well, and ask one of the owners (Nathan, Sam, or Joe) to recommend a few preparation techniques. If you’re not from the Southeast – no worries. Call them and ask them to ship it to your doorstep.

Wherever you are, make it a point to try a soft-shell crab this summer (ask around your area for the best place). Let me know what you think – my guess is you’ll have a strong opinion, one way or the other.

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