Soft-shell crab is a culinary term for crabs that have recently molted their old exoskeleton and are still soft. Soft-shells are removed from the water as soon as they molt to prevent any hardening of their shell. This means that almost the entire animal can be eaten, rather than having to shell the animal to reach the meat. The exceptions are the mouthparts, the gills and the abdomen, which, though edible when shells are very soft, are usually discarded ("cleaned"). The remaining, edible part of the crab is typically deep fried or sautéed.
In the Deep South region of the United States, "Buster crab" is often a synonym for a plump, meaty soft-shell crab, this usage especially common in the culinary centers such as New Orleans and Charlotte. This is despite the fact that the original meaning of Buster crab referred to either a soft-shell that had yet to complete molting, or to a soft-shell that had died before being provided to a seafood vendor, and was then consumed by the crabber.
In Japan, various species are used to make sushi such as maki-zushi or temaki-zushi. The Japanese blue crab (Portunus trituberculatus) or the shore swimming crab (Charybdis japonica) is typically used.
Soft shell crabs can have the soft organs along the dorsal cavity removed during cleaning, or they can be left in for consumption. In the latter case, along the US Atlantic coast, the customer asks the vendor to leave "the mustard", referring to the yellow orange color of the liver-analogue, and the deep orange of any roe in a female crab.
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