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. Know when a stone crab is past its due date? “You can determine its freshness by the way the shell separates from the meat,” says Anthony Sicignano, executive chef at The Breakers in Palm Beach. “It should fall away easily, without sticking.”
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,” Sicignano says. “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 eat them: The south county stone crab king is Truluck’s in Boca’s Mizner Park. In Palm Beach, head to the Palm Beach Grill or the Seafood Bar at The Breakers. North county options include standbys such as Captain Charlie’s Reef Grill in Juno Beach or Cod & Capers, a seafood wholesaler that also maintains an eat-in café in North Palm Beach.
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.