Crabs are busting out all over the place at Kimberly's Crabs 

Softie Season

Crab pots in the backyard at Kimbery's Crabs

Jonathan Boncek

Crab pots in the backyard at Kimbery's Crabs

Kimberly Carroll has lost two husbands in six years, but she doesn't want you to feel sorry for her. She's persevering and working hard, carrying on the business she and her second husband Bobby created together after her first husband Raul Morales died and she lost the Raul's Seafood spot on Shem Creek.

Since Bobby passed away from cancer in February, Kimberly has been running her crab operation, the eponymous Kimberly's Crabs, on her own. Used to be, she and Bobby did it together, taking turns monitoring the crab molting tanks in a backyard shed, sorting out the soft-shells throughout the day and night. Now, she's hired someone to work the overnight shift so she can get some much-needed rest. But she's up every morning at dawn, checking on the crabs and hoping for the opportunity to get out on the water and pull up her crab pots. Without Bobby, the Miss Kimberly is without a captain, so she relies on a guy who runs a fishing charter. If he doesn't have a reservation, he takes her out. Otherwise, she's out of luck and can't get her crabs in, which can cause problems when she's trying to supply the many restaurants that rely on her soft-shell crabs.

"It's hit or miss," she says. "I'm not out there today."

On the days she gets out to check her 50 pots, she'll bring caught crabs back to the tanks and prepare them for shedding. While crabs molt all year long, there's a run on peeler crabs when the waters warm up every spring, which is when they show up on menus around town.

"It's just me and the crabs and my restaurants," says Kimberly.

On this sunny Wednesday afternoon, during the full moon phase when the crabs are molting during the day, Kimberly quickly scans the shallow water tanks in her backyard shed looking for signs of peeling. A red line on the joints of their swimming legs is a sure sign that they're ready to shed that hard exoskeleton. Once it starts to pop up — she calls those crabs "busters" —it takes a few minutes for the shell to peel all the way off to reveal a new soft shell and a crab that's 25 to 35 percent bigger. The fresh peelers are slow and lethargic and prefer to be secluded. In mere hours, the shell will become thicker — like parchment paper — and will completely harden within a few days. Supervising the shedding is critical. Don't get the softies separated from the other crabs, and they'll probably be cannibalized. If a male grabs hold of a soft female, he'll keep holding on for a good week or so. "He'll wait until she's ready to let her skirts down," laughs Kimberly, "and then after he's done, he'll either eat her or let her go. Just depends." As Kimberly sorts the crabs, she rattles off information about blue crabs and tells stories about Bobby. She wants people to know that she's carrying on what she and Bobby built over the last six years. On the door to the shed is a circular nautical sticker, a blue crab on a compass with "In Memory of Bobby Carroll" curved around the edges. Kimberly says her late husband designed it. Knowing that he was not going to survive cancer, he had time to let his wishes be known. "I just did what he wanted me to," she says.

By the middle of the afternoon, the softies have been put on the flats and Kimberly rushes off to make her downtown deliveries, stopping by regular clients like FIG, the Ordinary, the Green Door, and Hank's, where the chefs then transform them into incredibly inventive and tasty dishes.

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