During my visit to Miami last month I had the opportunity of eating one of my favorite seafood items and best of all it was free.
Trust me, free was the right price when you consider that this item can cost anywhere from $15-35 a pound depending on their size.
Nope, it wasn’t a Florida lobster tail (or what true Northerners call a great big crawfish). It was something much rarer, making it a delicacy usually reserved for those with deep, deep pockets.
The decadent, plump, sweet yet briny lusciousness I was treated to were fresh Florida stone crab claws. There is nothing else like them and the best are plucked right out of the gulf coast waters.
Stone crab claws are only available Oct. 15 through May 15.
The stone crab, Menippe mercenaria, is unique in that the bodies are relatively small but the claws can grow incredibly large and strong enough to break open oyster shells. During their harvest period, commercial fisherman trap the crabs and remove one of the two claws and toss the crab back into the water alive. The claw that was removed will grow back, usually within a year, and by leaving the other claw intact the crab can still fight off predators and survive.
This system of harvesting the crab claws has sustained the population of the stone crabs for many years, unlike other fishing practices that have nearly depleted entire species of fish and crustaceans.
Once the claw is removed it is immediately cooked sometimes RIGHT ON THE BOAT, most times as soon as they reach the dock. This is done to prevent the crab meat from sticking to the inside of the shell. The cooked claw turns a brilliant red hue with the claw tips becoming a deep black color, completely different than any blue crab claw you’ve likely seen cooked. The typical claw is the main claw portion where the pincers are located and the next two flexing joints.
After being cooked they are placed on ice, sorted by size and sent off to markets and restaurants around the world.
Stone crab claws are normally sorted as medium (6-7 claws in a pound), large (4-5 claws per pound), jumbo (2-3 to a pound) and colossal (1-2 per pound) and they normally recommend you order 2 pounds per person if you plan to serve them as an entrée.
THEY OBVIOUSLY DON’T KNOW ME OR MY APPETITE.
My cousin is a restaurant manager for a seafood place in Miami. Knowing that my mom LOVES stone crab claws he made sure to get some for us to feast on during our visit. He brought several pounds of large crab claws which would retail for a pretty penny at any seafood store or restaurant. He managed to get these right from the commercial harvester and luckily for him, at a wholesale price.
Getting them as soon as possible and right from the source is the best way to ensure you are being served the cream of the crop and something that was never frozen.
He served up the crab claws with the creamy and spicy mustard sauce they are typically served with.
Then WE WENT TO WORK.
If you love eating crab then you know part of the fun is getting all into your food as you crack the shells and pick the meat.
Had I known ahead of time I would have packed up my plastic rain coat, placed a baseball hat on my head and started slinging the crab cracking mallets he placed on the table.
The mallet hit the shells, cracking and releasing some of the water. Specks of the shell flung across the dinner table but no one cared as we pummeled away at the hard exterior shell and exposing the precious bounty of claw meat.
I knew exactly where to hit the shell so it would crack in the right spot allowing me to pull the claw away from the shell in one whole piece. Grabbing the claw by the pincer I dipped it into the mustard sauce.
The last time I had a stone crab claw was about 15 years ago. In my mid 30s I would often drive to Everglades City and Chokoloskee Bay. There was a seafood store there were you could purchase the claws right off the boat at nearly wholesale price. After spending a day out kayaking around the bay I would hit the store and buy a huge bag full, place them in the cooler and head back home to feast well after a hard day out paddling the waters.
The taste is unique. The meat is firm, yet flaky and sweeter than blue crab and Dungeness.
After chomping down on the claw portion I cracked opened the first joint which housed a big chunk of crab meat. I cracked opened the other joint. I used the mini crab fork to poke at the meats and extract them from the shell, dunked them in the mustard and down they went.
This action kept repeating itself around the table. Forget catching up on the events of your life the past year with auntie or cousins. We were all too busy cracking claws for that nonsense. But one thing did come to mind for me.
There is a well-known restaurant in Miami Beach called Joe’s Stone Crabs. They’ve been in business since 1913 and are credited with introducing this tasty crab to the public around 1921. That evening while dining with family it brought back the memory of that one time I did dine there. While it was quite expensive it was worthy of the visit and the memory it created.
I definitely think it should be on everyone’s bucket list of places to experience at least once if ever in Miami and South Beach. Be prepared to spend a few bills though. They have an extensive menu besides the stone crab claws too, all prepared by professionals.
Last week after recovering from my turkey coma, my mind drifted back to that night of cracking claws with the family. I googled Everglades City…there is still a seafood store there, willing to ship them fresh from the waters. I don’t know if it’s the same place I used to go to. It may be as it appears to be in the same place I recall. They say their 5th generation owned and run so it seems worthy of a try…their prices seem reasonable.
Either way I plan to give them a call and place an order.
Here’s their information but of course you can always shop around: Grimm’s Stone Crab, Inc: http://crabsr.us/