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Getting my bib ready for Stone Crabs
Patty Leon new

There is one delectable crustacean that I often went and harvested myself because it was much cheaper than buying them from a market or at a restaurant – Florida Stone Crab Claws.

Now, I don’t miss much about living in Miami. But I do miss some of the hot spots I used to frequent to get these suckers. (Well I miss the Florida Keys too and the easy access to great local seafood).

Thanks to overfishing the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will be shortening the harvest season on this delicious crustacean by two weeks. Under new guidelines Stone crab claws are only available Oct. 15 through May 2, 2021. Only the claws are harvested and must be two- and three-quarter inches long from the tip of the claw to the first knuckle.

There is nothing else like them in terms of texture and flavor and the best are plucked right out of the Gulf Coast waters.

The stone crab, Menippe mercenaria, is unique in that the bodies are relatively small, but the claws can grow incredibly large and are 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.

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, just plain gorgeous.

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.

Any true Floridian knows the most well-known place to get the best Stone Crabs is at Joe’s Stone Crabs on Miami Beach. They’ve been in business since 1913 and are credited with introducing this tasty crab to the public around 1921.

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.

There was another spot you could grab some claws that was easier on the pocketbook. Tobacco Road was another legendary local hangout that had been around since 1915 and permanently closed in 2014. It was a classic dive-bar with exceptional foods and drinks.

Or you could go to the source at East Coast Fisheries, a former bordello turned combination seafood market and restaurant right on the banks of the Miami River. That place opened back in 1933 and closed in 2000.

But, for me, there was nothing like going to Everglades City and Chokoloskee Bay. The last time I was there was likely 25 years ago when I was in my mid-30s. I would make quick day trips on the weekends there and kayak along the shores of the 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

There was a seafood store there were you could purchase the claws right off the boat at nearly wholesale prices. After spending a day out kayaking, I would hit the store and buy a huge bag full, place them in the cooler and head back home to feast. The taste is unique. The meat is firm, yet flaky and sweeter than blue crab and Dungeness. 

The fun part, of course, is cracking the shells to get at the meat. A true pro, like me, dresses for the occasion by wearing a plastic raincoat, baseball hat on my head and have plenty of wet towels for my hands and face.

I’d grab my crab mallet and CRACK! Ahhhhhhhhh Yeah! 

There is plenty of meat in the claw and knuckles and it’s typically served with a special mustard/mayonnaise mix.

I recently 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 been in business since 1979, so it might be them. Their prices seem reasonable. Either way I plan to give them a call and place an order once the season opens.

Here’s their information but of course you can always shop around.

Patty Leon- Senior Editor

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