Just 2 days ago I was having lunch with my family and the dish ordered came with some a serving of soft shelled crab.
I don’t know a lot about soft shelled crab but I’m fairly certain that it isn’t a type of crab but a rather a crab that has recently molted it’s shell and has been scooped out of the water before the shell can harden. My dad however had a different theory. He reasoned that since there are restaurants serving soft-shell crab year round that someone somewhere has managed to raise a breed of crabs who’s shell is permanently soft. Still despite my protests to the contrary I couldn’t convince my dad otherwise.
Undaunted I decided to have a quick look online about soft-shell crab.
Turns out that some years ago (2009 to be exact) scientists had figured out a way to induce crabs to moult on demand. This article from National Geographic has some info on it. You can also check out the video on the site.
(sidenote: isn’t it suspicious that one of the scientists in the video looks Chinese? more on this later)
I’ve never actually seen soft-shell crab before and I’m fascinated by the appearance. It’s sort of translucent and gummy-like. I can’t imagine how goofy those crabs look like trying to move around. Though seriously if I ever woke up and all my bones were soft and I was some gelatinous mess on the bed it probably wouldn’t be as funny.
There’s not a lot of information about soft-shell crab in Singapore which drove me crazy because now I’m wondering where on earth we get our soft-shell crab supplies from. Turns out there are more suppliers than I thought.
Over at Alibaba.com there’s a whole list of local suppliers who are importing the crabs (typically Scylla Serrata) from countries like Indonesia and Myanmar. One supplier asks for a minimum order of 8000 kilograms and touts the ability to supply 40,000kg per month. NOW THAT’S A LOAD OF CRAB!
I doubt I’d ever try out that seller. If I ever get soft-shell crab on my own it’ll probably be just 5 kg at the most. I mean they can’t be very heavy without a hard shell now can they?
Serious Eats has a very informative guide to cleaning soft-shelled crab. The best part? You get to cut off their face! With a scissors! Crazy!
I mean I can’t imagine having a worse day for a crab than waking up realising you’ve put on too much weight because of all those crab parties you’ve been having over crab new year so much so that your current shell has burst. So you moult your shell and decide to sit under a rock and wait for it to harden but then a fisherman picks you up instead puts you in a tank and sells you at the market to a guy who then goes and cuts off your face.
Frankly I’d be incensed.
Anyway I can’t believe that they’re churning out so much soft shell crab in asia to feed the needs of restaurants around the region. I’m guessing that maybe Mr. Scientist in the video might have stolen the magic formula and is feeding it to his compatriots in his home region cough CHINA where they are now using said chemicals to induce moulting in crabs thereby creating an endless supply of soft-shell crabs. Hence the surprising amount of soft-shell crab in Singapore restaurants and their relatively low cost. Crab doesn’t keep well but I wonder if freezing soft-shell crab prolongs it’s shelf-life? It doesn’t hurt that most restaurants serve the crab deep-fried which might help to mask any muddy taste. Either way I don’t think it really matters as long as I get to keep eating soft-shell crab which I love.
I just don’t think I could ever look at the beautifully fried faceless crab on my plate the same way ever again.