When stone crab season opens Friday, mouths will water across the country, but take a few key pieces of advice.
Stone Crabs are back in season this Friday, October 15. The tasty crustacean takes its annual hiatus from restaurants and seafood stores March 15 to October 15 in order to allow claws to regenerate over the summer. Since the stone crab is capable of regrowing its claws every 18 months, this break prevents overfishing of the briny delicacy. The seasonality also makes the stone crab more in demand.
Stone crabs were discovered as a delicacy in 1921 in Miami Beach. James Allison, a scientist and aquarium owner, realized that cooking and chilling the claws of the stone crab was a worthwhile culinary endeavor with the help of his friend Joe Weiss, who just happened to own an eponymous seafood shack on the tip of what is now South Beach. Hence, Joe’s Stone Crab turned into one of the top-grossing restaurants in the country ( with reported sales of $26 million in 2009), and stone crabs became synonymous with luxury and Miami.
While Joe’s Stone Crab, which is entering its 98th season this week, developed, marketed, and codified the stone crab milieu (including the most heavenly, creamy mustard dipping sauce), restaurants worldwide have been serving the crustaceans seasonally of late. (There are even outposts of the Joe’s Stone Crab brand in Las Vegas and Chicago.) It’s now de rigueur for steakhouses to sell the jumbo claws as nightly specials; but you will certainly pay for the privilege. Crabs go upward from $20 to $65 per order (based on size). And last year’s poor stone crab season didn’t help matters much with its low yield.
If you have seen stone crabs on the menu during the off season, that means the eatery in question is either serving them frozen (and diners can tell because the stone crab meat will stick to the shell no matter how well it has been defrosted) or they have been fished from Chile, where the preservation laws are not as stringent. Stateside, stone crabs are cultivated from the Florida Keys and Gulf Coast region, where hundreds of boats troll for the crustaceans daily. One local company, George Stone Crab, estimates its haul at 5,000 pounds per day in the Keys alone.
Our advice is to wait a few days after the October 15 commencement date in order to ensure that you are indeed being served fresh claws versus frozen ones. You can have them shipped to you with all of the accoutrements via Joe’s Stone Crab’s website, but nothing beats the experience of sitting down to a heaping plate of chilled jumbo claws, which are perfectly cracked and served with their signature mustard sauce and warm butter. Bib optional.
Jacquelynn D. Powers is a writer based in Miami Beach. Her work has appeared in the Miami New Times and slashfood.com. Prior to that, she was the senior editor of Ocean Drive magazine for over a decade.