In the United States, Soft Shell Crab are actually Blue Crabs that have just molted their exoskeletons (shells) and are still soft. They must be removed from the water within a few hours or another larger shell will begin to form. The crabs fatten up to make it through the process of molting, rendering soft shell crabs intensely flavorful.
Because the crabs need direct heat to give them their characteristic outer crispness, they should not be boiled or steamed like hard-shell crabs (they’d end up a soggy mess). Soft-shell crabs take only minutes to cook, so they’re traditionally pan fried or sautéed, but they do lend themselves nicely to the broiler or grill, as well. From there they can be taken in any direction, from sushi to a salad, but they are most commonly served sandwiched between two slices of bread.
To clean a soft shell crab, cut away the eyes and mouth with a sharp knife or scissors. Fold back one side of the top shell to expose the pale orange gills. Pull away and discard the gills from both sides of the crab. Turn the crab over and fold back the tail flap. Pull it away from the body and discard. The crab is now cleaned.