Named after their industrial-strength shells, stone crabs have become a seasonal, not-to-be-missed staple in southern coastal communities. Between October and mid-May, Floridians consume mountains of this compact crustacean, enamored by the sweet treasure trapped within their black-tipped claws (the crab’s only edible protrusion). Once caught, crab claws should be boiled immediately and then served (or frozen); otherwise, the meat attaches to the inner shell, making it difficult to remove.
Season: October 15 through May 15. Crabbers can drop their traps on October 5 but must wait 10 days to start retrieving them. The season kicks off with the annual parade of boats and blessing of the fleet in Everglades City. Many connoisseurs believe the most succulent crabs are harvested before January 1.
Stone crab season has arrived. Get the goods on this true Florida delicacy plus a few recipes to boot.
Size: Stone crabs are classified according to the size of the immovable part of their claw. Standard sizes are medium (five to eight claws per pound), large (four to five), jumbo (three), and colossal (one to two). As with lobster, opinion is divided on whether the smaller claws are sweeter.
Serve: Chilled with a spritz of lemon or lime, or with a traditional mustard sauce (cocktail sauce is also acceptable). “Use a good quality mayonnaise and Dijon mustard, in 50/50 proportions,” says Anthony Sicignano, executive chef at The Breakers in Palm Beach. “Add salt and pepper to taste and a dash of Tabasco if you prefer. The secret ingredient is a teaspoon or two of Coleman’s dry mustard. You’re aiming for a pale yellow or golden color.”
Where to buy: Collier County’s go-to stone crab spot is Captain & Krewe (239-263-1976) in Naples. Established in 2003 as Captain Kirk’s Stone Crab, the 8th Street South joint completely renovated its digs in 2014 following stone crab season. Now the sleek spot is a restaurant, seafood market, and raw oyster bar. It’s the place to grab hard-to-find fish like hog snapper and rock shrimp (not carried on a regular basis, but they will order the little delicacies straight away if you ask), as well as prepared goodies. For stone crab season, Captain offers some of the freshest claws in town, with the claws restocked daily by the fish market’s fleet of ships.
Insider’s Tip: When prices get astronomically high, it usually means a poor harvest. The best time to buy is when prices are stable or up slightly from the year before.