New Orleans History -- Lake Pontchartrain
Friday, July 12, 2024
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Soft Shelled Crabs

soft shell crabs
Wed Nov 27 2002 10:22:12 am
I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a wholesale fish purveyor about soft shell crabs.

My grandfather was a commercial soft shell crab fisherman.

During the 30s, he sold them for less than $2 a dozen. Of course, you could get a roast beef po-boy then for about 25 cents.

About the only real change in the technology of making soft shell crabs in the last 70 years has been the introduction of transparent above ground tanks.

My granfather had "traps" that sat in the water barely floating. Every four hours he would pull these traps out of the water, check the stage of shedding and move the crabs to the final shedding trap over time.

This was every four hours, 24/7.

...Craftsmanship, and an utter, unfailing dedication to the task at hand- characteristics this land is critically in need of Today, no matter the line of work!


I would watch both my grandparents knit shimp cast nets by hand during the winters. My granddad made the weights by hand with a small lead furnace and mold.

He also carved wooden duck decoys by hand and wooden duck calls.

My grandmother's brother could build a wooden fishing or crabbing boat without plans.

One story I like is that he once cut the boards for the bait well too short in a small fishing boat, so he built the next boat around the short boards.

Mr. Lake
A wonder to behold
Watching a crab shed its' shell is an awesome sight. First the "apron" opens as well as the back of the shell. Slowly, very slowly the crab actually backs out to the old shell. If a claw was missing, it "reappears" in the new "incarnation". The outer tips of the shell back are coiled up at first, slowly unroll. In the end, you have a much larger crab.

The new softshell crab can barely move. And if you don't throw it in the fridge or freezer it will harden in a few hours.

Simply removing the crab from the water should keep it from hardening. They will actually start to harden within 30 minutes after shedding.

You want to put them in the refrigerator to keep them fresh.

My granddad would cover them with a wet cloth and rewet the cloth in the fridge. We are talking about a dozen or more crabs stacked in an old style wooden coke carton.

Hardening/Soft Shells...
I remember some of the crabbers out on U. S. 90 on Chef Menteur and Lake Catherine. They processed their crabs under their raised camp/homes with pumps circulating lake water through their crab boxes and they checked on the crabs periodically to pick out the soft shells. I can still remember some of the guys leaving St. Nicholas Church on the Chef just after Communion to go check their crab boxes (good excuse to miss the end of Mass?). Joe Marques had a soft shell crab co-op at his restaurant at Chef Pass. He would box them up and ship them out to the Gulf Coast and East Coast for higher prices.

Does anyone remember Marques' restaurant at Chef Pass and U. S. 90 by the swing bridge?

Marques Restaurant...
I remember the restaurant!! When I was a kid, we sometimes went there by boat, which was a really big deal for a kid. The food was out of this world. I sure miss it.

Thanks for the memory.