October 15 marks the opening day of Florida’s stone crab season!
If you can handle the sticker shock (one pound [about 5-6 medium/large claws] at the fish market generally goes for about $25-27) you’re in for a treat. This year I had a tough time finding them that first weekend because it was still a little early, and traps hadn’t been in the water very long. I was getting nervous because I was writing a blog post about them for Visit Sarasota County and had to get my hands on some claws in order to meet my deadline! So I reached out to my local “crab connections” (don’t you all have those?) and found some beauties.
If you’re new to the stone crab phenomenon, here are NINE things you might like to know:
1) In Florida, stone crabs are harvested October 15 through May 15 (note: for the 2020/2021 season, the end date is May 1, 2021)
2) Harvesters (commercial & recreational) typically use baited traps, and each have their own identifiable floats at the surface.
3) Commercial crabbers might put out as many as several thousand traps each year; recreational anglers are allowed 5 traps (with a license, of course).
4) Unlike other crab harvesting methods, stone crabbers remove only one approved-size claw from each crab, then they return the crab to the water. An adult crab will regenerates its claw after about 1 year and, within 3 years, it will have regained about 95% of its original claw size. The process is carefully managed by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, to ensure longevity of the species.
5) Many commercial fishermen cook the claws on their boats after harvesting — it not only ensures freshness, but also reduces the possibility of meat sticking to shells. When cooked, they take on that beautiful red-orange color.
6) Stone crab has white, flaky meat that’s sweet, tender and oh-so-delicious.
7) Most seasoned crab eaters will tell you that the best way to enjoy them is cold, but you can also enjoy them slightly warmed.
8) Once you crack the shell, you can devour the meat by itself OR dip in a sauce — the classic is mustard sauce, but drawn butter runs a close second.
9) Cracking them open doesn’t require heavy tools like a hammer or a fancy crab-cracking device. Nope. A sturdy kitchen spoon achieves great results, with moderate shell fragments in your kitchen (although, it’s probably best to take the operation outside). Simply lay each claw in the palm of your hand then rap the shell firmly with the back of the spoon – one, two or three times should do it. This fractures the shell into a couple of large pieces (as opposed to smashing it to smithereens) then you should be able to pull out the meat easily. The knuckle also has lots of meat, so be sure to use the spoon to crack that as well.
Here are some colorful floats and well-worn traps used by one of our seasoned, local crabbers:
My better half and I tried our first batch of stone crab this season and we both agreed that it was the best we’ve ever had. One local crabber told us that the early catch is typically the sweetest and boy, he was right!
- 1 c. mayonnaise
- 1 Tb. Dijon mustard
- 1 Tb. dry mustard (Coleman’s if you have it)
- ½ tsp. granulated sugar
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 2 Tb. cream (light or heavy)
- Dash kosher salt
- 25-30 stone crab claws (keep refrigerated until ready to serve)
- Whisk mayonnaise through salt in a small bowl until very smooth. Refrigerate at least one hour before serving.
- To open claws: lay each claw loosely in the palm of your hand, with the claw facing downward. Using a large spoon (tablespoon size), rap the shell firmly with the back of the spoon - one, two or three times should do it. This will fracture the shell into a couple of large pieces (as opposed to smashing it to smithereens) then you should be able to pull out the claw meat in one piece. Use the spoon to also crack the knuckle, which should release its meat as well.
- When ready to serve, keep the claws in some fresh ice to ensure freshness and keep them chilled. Serve with lemon wedges.