The Stone Crab Is The Best Seafood Choice You Can Make. They're Arguably The Most Delectable Of All Sea Critters.
In Florida, stone crab season is a big deal. People come from all over to get their claws on these sweet, succulent crustaceans. But have you ever wondered about the life of a stone crab? What do they do when they're not being boiled and served with drawn butter or mustard sauce? Let's take a look.
Stone crabs are found in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. They get their name from their hard, stone-like shells. Stone crabs are natural predators and will eat just about anything they can get their claws on—including other stone crabs!
Females can grow up to 9 inches long, while males only grow to be about 6 inches long. Females can produce up to 1 million eggs at a time, laying them in four- to six-egg "sponges", or sacks, during the months of March through September. It's the reason the claws are harvested October 15 through May 1.
The Crabbing Process
Stone crabbers use either baited traps or lines with hooks to catch their quarry. Once a crab is caught, its claws are removed if they are both over 7cm long, and the crab is returned to the water. Removing both claws gives the crab little opportunity to defend themselves, though. So in a lot of cases, only one claw will be large enough to remove, which is a better option for the crab, and better for the crab fishery. In South Carolina, regulations are that only one claw can be removed.
The larger of the claws is called the “crusher claw” and the smaller claw is the “pincer claw”. So it’s like the pincer claw is used to pick up its prey and the crusher claw is used to pulverize it before it eats it. What’s nice is that the claws will grow back within a year, at which point the crab can be caught and harvested again. This makes stone crabbing a sustainable fishing practice.
After the claw is taken, the crab is put back in the water. The claws that have been harvested are immediately placed in ice water and cooked, then immersed in ice water again to keep the meat from sticking to the inside of the shell. Once you get the claws from the harvest, they should be stored in the coldest part of your refrigerator, as close to 32 degrees as possible, but not below so they freeze. It’s best to eat them within 2 days.
Many places will ship stone crab claws when in season. In Florida, the season runs from October 15 through May 1. They’re not cheap: an order for a family of 4 with shipping can easily be over $100. But they’re SO good!
What's on the Menu?
Stone crabs are most commonly served cold with drawn butter or mustard sauce for dipping. Some people also like to add lemon juice or Old Bay seasoning for extra flavor. If you're feeling adventurous, you can even try deep-frying your crabs! I’ve never had them deep fried, but when they’re served cold with mustard sauce there’s nothing better. I’d say it’s the best type of seafood going, even better than lobster. The meat is so sweet, you can eat it as it is and be totally happy.
The sad thing is that most people have never had Stone Crabs. If you ever get the chance, give them a try. HOT TIP: The tiki bar upstairs at Keys Fisheries will serve you a 5-pack for about $20. You'll pay double that elsewhere.
No matter how you enjoy them, make sure to savor every last bite—after all, they only come around once a year.
Cheers to the great outdoors,