Stone Crabs

It’s almost time for those beautiful little pink stone crab claws to hit the market.

The first time I ever put claw to mouth was in a kitchen cooler with my friend Wade, the guy behind the fish at Oceanaire. We stood in the chilly box furtively dipping the black-tipped gems in a little mustard-mayo and sliding the sweet, soft meat from the claw with our teeth. It was just a perfect moment, that’s all.

I used to wonder why all the fuss was thrown over some crab. I like crab, but I’m not gaga over it. A well-honed crab cake can be quite satisfying, but I feel cracking and dealing the big spidery crab legs to be too much of a bother. And you with your "imitation crab" salad, get out.

But stone crab claws are different.

First of all, harvesting stone crab is very ocean-friendly. Fisherman take only one claw from a crab before returning it back to the ocean. The stone crab is genetically gifted with a speedy regeneration process, a natural trick that favors their habit of losing limbs to get away from predators and out of tight spaces. With the help of warm waters, it can take as little as a year for the claw to grow back.

And then there’s the taste. Crack a claw and the meat inside is a translucent white. It has a fresh and clean flavor with a light sweetness. Hit it with a little lime and the citrus will brighten the flavors. Dip it in a little mustard-mayo to add a touch of creamy bite and you’ll be the one who’s caught in a trap.

Stone crabs are usually harvested from October to May, but the restaurant industry likes to promote them in January and February to help pump up business during the post-holiday blahs.

I think it also helps us all take a break from the heavy stews and pot-roasts of the season, reminding us that there does exist a warm place where things regenerate.

The recent chilly weather in Florida has delayed shipments because the crabs tend burrow into the sand when it gets colder. But keep your eye out for announcements from Oceanaire, McCormick & Schmicks, Stella’s, as well as many steakhouses or have a go with them on your own from Coastal Seafoods.