Stone crab season is underway, and I’m always surprised by the number of presentations in which stone crab meat is adulterated–by both amateur and professional chefs. I enjoy crab dip and crab cakes, but I reserve those recipes for either lump or claw meat from blue crabs. Stone crab claws are best left simple, only to be served with melted butter or a tasty mustard sauce, like that served at some Big Bend seafood restaurants.
Eating stone crabs is not for the obsessive-compulsive among us, and generally, a stone crab dinner isn’t a dress-up affair. Bibs are in order for diners of all ages. And I’ve seen a myriad of methods for cracking the hard claws and knuckles. There are fancy hydraulic crab crackers and there are basic nutcrackers, but my preference is a heavy stainless steel tablespoon (Don’t use Mom’s good silver!). Just hold the claw in the palm of your hand and smack it with the back of the spoon. It will crack, often exposing all the claw meat with a single blow. This method also works well on the knuckles, but you may still need a cocktail fork or nut pick to get the meat out. No matter your method, expect to get messy.
Stone crabs come from the fish market or supermarket pre-cooked. Commercial crabbers take only the claws and return the crabs to the water, where they grow replacements. Usually they’re sold cold, but if you prefer them warm, a quick douse in boiling water will raise their temperature without toughening the meat. And as with all seafood, be safe and don’t allow your crab claws to sit out on the counter in order to bring them to room temperature.
The 2015 “crop” of stone crabs looks good, according to the folks at Kathi’s Krabs in Steinhatchee and Northwest Seafood in Gainesville. They’re expensive, especially if you buy the jumbo claws. However, the medium claws taste the same, take a bit more time to crack, but they’re also cheaper.