How to enjoy the succulent crab, now in season.
Stone crab season is underway, and I’m always surprised by the number of presentations in which stone crab meat is adulterated—by both amateur and professional chefs. I enjoy crab dip and crab cakes, but I reserve those recipes for either lump or claw meat from blue crabs. Stone crab claws are best left simple, only to be served with melted butter or a tasty mustard sauce, like that served at Joe’s Stone Crab Restaurant in Miami Beach.
Eating stone crabs is not for the obsessive-compulsive among us, and generally, a stone crab dinner isn’t a dress-up affair. Bibs are in order for diners of all ages. And I’ve seen a myriad of methods for cracking the hard claws and knuckles. There are fancy hydraulic crab crackers and there are basic nutcrackers, but my preference is a heavy stainless steel tablespoon (don’t use Mom’s good silver!). Just hold the claw in the palm of your hand and smack it with the back of the spoon. It will crack, often exposing all the claw meat with a single blow. This method also works well on the knuckles, but you may still need a cocktail fork or nut pick to get the meat out. No matter your method, expect to get messy.
Stone crabs come from the fish market or supermarket pre-cooked. Commercial crabbers take only the claws and return the crabs to the water, where they grow replacements. Usually they’re sold cold, but if you prefer them warm, a quick douse in boiling water will raise their temperature without toughening the meat. As with all seafood, be safe and don’t allow your crab claws to sit out on the counter in order to bring them to room temperature.
According to David Capo, owner of The Crab Ranch in Dixie County, the 2012 crop of Gulf stone crabs was below par. Prices were high and the claws were on the smallish side. That opinion, as well as some finger pointing towards an octopus infestation, was echoed by the folks at Charlie’s Fish House and Seafood in Crystal River, who’ve been in business for over 60 years. All agree that lots of predatory octopuses mean fewer crabs in the traps and crabbers statewide are hoping for a better season this year. Of course, octopus is good to eat, too. But those recipes are best saved for another Sportsman’s Kitchen column. FS
Joe’s Mustard Sauce for Stone Crabs
- 1 tbsp. dry mustard
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp. steak sauce, like A1
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- Salt, to taste
Whisk together the dry mustard, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, steak sauce, cream and salt until smooth and combined. Chill for at least 30 minutes, or until ready to serve.
The Laws for the Claws
FWC’s Rules and Regs
Stone Crab Limits:
No possession of females with eggs
2 3⁄4-inch claw, minimum size
Open season: Oct. 15 – May 15
Bag limit: 1 gallon of claws per person or 2 gallons per vessel, whichever is less
Stone Crab Harvesting Gear:
It is unlawful to use any device to take stone crabs that can puncture, crush, or injure the crab body, such as spears, grains, grabs, hooks or similar devices.
Maximum of 5 stone crabs traps per person can be used.
Both claws of a stone crab may be harvested lawfully if they are of legal size. However taking both claws leaves the stone crab with few alternatives to defend itself from predators and gather food to survive and regrow claws.
Stone Crab claws must measure at least 2 3⁄4-inches in length as measured by a straight line from the elbow to the tip of the lower immovable finger.
A complete summary of rules on using stone crab traps can be read at the myfwc.com website or in the FWC’s regulations handout available at tackle stores.
First Published Florida Sportsman November 2013