October is the beginning of stone crab season which runs through May. If you’re not familiar with stone crabs, you might recognize their distinctive black tipped orange claws. Stone crabs are best known and most often associated with the 100 year old Miami Beach institution, “Joe’s Stone Crab” restaurant. People may know the succulent claws and their famous mustard sauce, but most don’t know the story behind how the crab claws made it to the plate for the first time.
In 1913 New Yorker Joe Weiss moved to Miami Beach Florida and opened a restaurant named Joe’s. In 1921 he met a marine biologist visiting from Harvard University, who was working on building a local aquarium. The biologist asked Joe if he ever cooked the indigenous stone crabs, which were plentiful, but had a peculiar taste. Joe started experimenting with the crabs and discovered that if they were eaten hot they had an odd taste, but if they were chilled after cooking they developed the perfect texture and delectable flavor.
Found mostly in Florida and the other Gulf Coast states from Texas to North Carolina, stone crabs are not as plentiful as they were the in 1920’s, and are now protected to assure their continued survival. Whole crabs and egg bearing females are not allowed to be harvested. Only single front claws are harvested from live crabs and the crabs are returned to the water, left with a remaining pincer claw for feeding and defense. The missing claw regenerates in 12 to 24 months. The meat inside the claw is firm and sweet. Stone crab claws are sold in sizes ranging from Medium (5-6/lb) to Jumbo (3-4/lb) to Colossal (1-2/lb).
Most of the stone crab claws you’ll find in markets have been previously frozen, unless you are lucky enough to live in an area where they are harvested. Once thawed, the claws should be eaten within 48 hours and not cracked until you are ready to eat them right away. To crack the claws you will need a mallet or a small hammer and a solid surface. I recommend you lay out some newspaper or towels to catch the errant shells and the liquid which will come from the claws. Here’s Joe’s Stone Crab’s instructions on how to crack the claws.
Cook’s Tip: If you want to make the claws a meal, serve them as they do at Joe’s, with their traditional sides; hashed brown potatoes, creamed spinach and coleslaw (and of course, the famous mustard sauce). Follow it up with a big slice of Key Lime pie.
If you’re looking to buy stone crab claws fresh, not frozen, a friend recently recommended this company; Charlie’s Stone Crabs. I haven’t tried them yet and have no affiliation with them, but they look pretty good. Their prices, including shipping, are along the lines of what you’d pay by the pound to eat them in a restaurant.