FoodShed Exchange

Stone Crabs

STONE CRAB SEASON OPENS OCTOBER 15th!

The Florida stone crab season in the Gulf coast and much of the Atlantic runs from October 15th through mid-May. Fortunately for restaurants that serve this lobster-like specialty, stocks have remained steady in recent years so there is plenty on the market.

Stone crabs are caught in rectangular traps similar to those for lobsters. The traps are hauled to the surface and carefully—these are ornery fellows with a mean bite—placed in circulating sea water. They must be 2 ¾ inches across from on the inner part of the claws.

The Florida stone crab is usually fished near jetties, oyster reefs or other rocky areas, just as for blue crabs. The bodies are relatively small and so are rarely eaten, but the claws, which are large and rock hard, hold the treasured meat.

When we think of Florida stone crabs there is one place that comes to mind: the sprawling Joe’s Stone Crab, in Miami Beach (11 Washington Avenue, 305-673-0365). Opening today for the season, it’s a rollicking place, particularly during the winter season. No one seems to balk at the princely prices, which are considerably higher than for lobster.

WHY DO THEY TASTE SO GOOD

Stone crabs feast on a briny buffet of oysters, and small mollusks, and other crustaceans, as well as sea worms. The very heavy shell of the claw protects the meat of the crab from penetration of diluting steam and moisture during cooking to preserve that special delicate flavor. The stone crab has a unique resilient texture yet silky to the bite.

NUTRITION

Stone crab is an excellent source of chromium, selenium and a number of other important minerals. It is high in vitamins, particularly B12, high in protein and very low in fat. It has less than 1/3 the cholesterol of shrimp.

Approximate values for a cooked 3 ounces portion of crab meat contains 60 calories, no fat, 15 grams protein, 45 mg cholesterol, 300 mg sodium, 15 grams protein and 4 grams calcium. Crab is too low on the food chain to carry a significant amount of mercury.

HOW TO COOK

The common method is steaming, although they can be delicious grilled or baked.

The meat is so sweet you can enjoy it as is, or just a squeeze on a little juice from a fresh lemon or lime.

HOW TO EAT

Place the claws on a hard surface such as a cutting board. You’ll need a mallet, hammer or other strong blunt instrument, like a tire iron or putter.

To avoid a mess, cover the claw with a kitchen towel or put the claw in a plastic bag.

Begin lightly cracking the claws with your mallet, starting at the softer side from near the body, then outward to the pincer.

With the cloth on or off, carefully remove the shells from the claw meat and separate the two knuckles from the main pincher. Carefully pull the small pincher away.

BACKGROUND

WHAT IS A STONE CRAB?

A stone crab is a heavy shelled crustacean whose black tipped claws are highly regarded for their sweet delicate meat. There are actually two species of stone crabs; one named Florida stone crab which occurs south of Tampa Bay around to the Atlantic and a close cousin which is darker brown to maroon in color which occurs west of Cape San Blas all the way to Mexico.

WHERE DO THEY COME FROM?

Stone Crabs are native to the Gulf of Mexico, up the Atlantic Coast as far north as Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and south through the island towards Cuba. Florida’s Gulf waters produce 75% of the commercial harvest.

DOES HARVESTING THE CLAWS KILL THE CRAB?

When the claws are harvested by the proper technique that allows a diaphragm to seal the brake so that the crab will not bleed to death. One or both claws may be taken from mature crabs of about 3-1/2 years of age of both sexes excluding Ovigerous females. The live crabs are returned to the ocean where they are trapped so they may protect themselves by hiding in their burrows. Their claws will grow back during the natural molting processes over about 1 year period. They may be harvested again but are usually smaller in size, often referred to as “retreads”.

WHAT ABOUT FEMALE CRABS?

Ovigerous females carrying eggs and egg sacs are prohibited from harvesting claws and must be returned to the water immediately and unharmed. Stress from being trapped and removed from the water can cause loss of eggs. It is illegal to harvest claws from Ovigerous females.

HOW IS THE CRAB CLAWS HANDLED?

The stone crab claws are cooked on the boat or when returned that day to shore to preserve the quality of the meat. The stone crab claw meat will stick to the shell when lowered below 36 degrees F. making icing and frezzing the claws for storage impractical. Stone crab claws are best eaten freshly caught and cooked.

HOW MANY MAKE A POUND?

It takes about 2-1/2 pounds of stone crab claws to yield 1 pound of cleaned meat.

Claws are graded as follows:

Stone Crab Sizes

Size/GradeWeight eachCount per pound
Mediumunder 3oz6 to 8
Large3 to 5oz4 to 6
Jumboover 5oz1 to 3

For the claw bend the moving finger sideways to crack and loosen, then carefully remove without tearing the rest of the claw meat. Crack the palm of the claw with your mallet at the sides to remove the shell and free up the claw meat. Since the meat has been cooked it is ready to serve and enjoy.

Important Links:

How to Harvest a Stone Crab Claw

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/commercial/stone-crab/
http://myfwc.com/news/news-releases/2014/october/08/stone-crabs/
http://m.myfwc.com/research/saltwater/crustaceans/stone-crabs/faq/
http://www.stonecrabflorida.com/stone-crab-facts.html

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