Moeche Venetian Lagoon

So many speak about soft shell crabs and if you are from Louisiana crab keepers maintain crabs shedding, a full-time job for those storing live crabs. The blue crabs shed their shells at any time, and within a couple of hours they must be removed from their tanks and refrigerated before their new exoskeletons form.

The blue crab isn’t quite the same and here it is the green crab species is the predominant crab in the Mediterranean Sea. In the Venetian lagoon Moeche is a prized species with a price tag of €35/kg and more depending on the season.

The Moeche is all about the weightlessness and tender texture, the softness Venetians enjoy just before they regenerate the new carapace. Moeche means “soft” in the Venetian dialect and if they aren’t soft forget it, and if they are 100% fresh avoid them.

You can tell when they are fresh by their appearance of their crinkly shell, subtle flavours and the topside are easy to remove.

Moeche have a delicate interior of crab brain (miso), a skeletal membrane separating the crab’s miso, the most delicious part and you can start by removing the legs and savour the head until the last bite. But be aware as they are fried, enjoying them means having them while they are still hot.

The green crab (Carcinus aestuarii) is the most common crab species in the Mediterranean Sea—as a matter of fact, in Italy it is often called the “common crab.” This species can withstand fluctuating salinity and temperatures and is particularly well adapted to lagoons and shallow water. In the lagoon north of Venice, this crab is the focus of a special activity, something in between fishing and extensive animal farming: moeche crab picking. Fishers have sustained the practice of selecting molting crabs for at least three centuries. During this phase of their life cycle, crabs lose their shell and are therefore soft and tender—moeche means “soft” in the Venetian dialect. Harvesting moeche is a seasonal activity based on the natural growth of the crabs, and it generally peaks in spring and autumn. Crabs are caught with gillnets placed in the lagoon’s shallow waters. They are then carefully selected, separating boni crabs (those that will molt within the next 1-3 weeks) from spiantani crabs (which will molt in a couple of days) and matti crabs (which will not molt during the picking season). While matti crabs are thrown back into the sea, spiantani and boni crabs are kept separately in special containers called vieri. These containers used to be completely made of wicker, but now consist of spaced wooden planks to allow water to circulate within the box. Vieri are lowered into the shallow waters close to the canals. Vieri are checked and cleaned by fishers who harvest moeche crabs, eliminate dead crabs and shells, and move boni crabs that gradually become spiantanicrabs. Once the moeche crabs are removed from the water, they are kept alive in refrigerated boxes for 2-3 days and eventually sold. Moeche crabs must be cooked alive. They are cut open with a knife and then squeezed to remove all the remaining water. They are then dusted with flour and thrown in boiling oil, where the greenish, soggy creatures turn into crispy golden-red delicacies, developing a sweet flavor that recalls seaweed and seawater. Another recipe requires the moeche crabs to be immersed in bowls of beaten egg. After an hour of soaking in egg, the crabs are dusted in flour and deep fried in boiling oil.