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Monday, December 6, 2010

Stone Crab Claws

Florida Stone Crab Claws and a Waltz Down Memory Lane
by Victoria Challancin

I'm a Cracker.  I admit it.  A Florida Cracker.  Daughter and granddaughter of men who hacked their way through the Florida brush so long ago.  Even if that "so long ago" reference makes me feel old, it also makes me proud to my heritage.  Proud and hungry, those sensibilities that family memories always stir.  Yep, thirty-five years or more of living out of the US and I am still a cracker girl at heart.

Whenever I returned home from university in my youth, or later from my overseas travels, one of the things besides fried chicken and gravy that my Southern mother would cook was Stone Crab Claws...Can you hear me sigh?  And a trip to Miami Beach, a mere 75 miles from where I was raised, always meant a trip to Joe's Stone Crab, where we never ordered anything except Stone Crabs with Mustard Sauce---and Key Lime Pie, of course.  Of course.

Stone Crabs are interesting creatures.  Like all crabs, the stone crab has two claws.  What differentiates their claws from those of other species is that the smaller claw, the pincer claw, is not harvested; only the larger crusher claw is taken by the fishermen.  The living crab is then returned to the water once the claw is removed--a renewable resource.  And to help the sustainability of the species, egg-bearing females are not allowed to be declawed.

When I was young, stone crab season in Florida ran from mid-October to mid-May, and though I had fished for blue crabs in the Chesapeake at my aunt's when I was young, I never actually caught a stone crab in Florida.  But my family had plenty of fisherman buddies who did, and who kept us supplied.  Today stone crabs are such an expensive luxury, ranging from about $17 to $35 per pound depending on size,  that I can't even imagine our best friends supplying our table!  The trick to harvesting the crabs was to remove only the larger "crusher claw,"  so that when you released the crab to return to its habitat, it could defend itself and gather food with the remaining claw while it regenerated a new one.  I have been told that the laws differ today, but then everything changes, doesn't it?  When I was young, it seemed humane to me. that only one claw was harvested--a humane way to eat the most delectable seafood without killing the host.  Well, somewhat humane.  You still have to be very careful how you remove that one large claw.  But that is a post of a different color.

To say that the crab claw meat is mouth-watering doesn't begin to do it justice.  Sweet, succulent, tender, delicate, somewhat similar to but lighter than lobster meat...and yes, mouth-watering and low fat. Can anything this good and rich really be low fat?  Indeed it can. And that is without fancy preparations:  the only way I have ever eaten stone crab claws is to boil them, chill them, crack them open, and serve them with mustard sauce--or perhaps drawn butter.

I was thrilled, THRILLED, when Saveur magazine published in its 25 Greatest Meals Ever edition a couple of months ago the recipe for both the Key Lime Pie and the Mustard Sauce from Joe's Stone Crab in Miami.  I emailed it to all my relatives.  Really, I did.  But for those of you who aren't kinfolk or who didn't see it, I'll post the mustard sauce recipe below.  This sauce can be used with any seafood--or even on a sandwich!  Or maybe ice cream.  Just kidding.

Joe's Stone Crab Mustard Sauce
(Recipe from Saveur Magazine)

1 cup mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons half-and-half cream
4 teaspoons dry mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon A.1. Steak Sauce
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Whisk mayonnaise, cream, mustard, Worcestershire, and steak sauce in a bowl until smooth; season with salt and pepper and chill.  Serve as a dipping sauce with all kinds of crab.

My Notes:  I use Hellmann's Light mayo, Coleman's dry mustard (though a spicy brown mustard works as well), Pick-a-Peppa sauce instead of Worcestershire, and I added 1 to 2 tablespoons of milk in addition to the cream to thin the sauce a bit.

If you can't make it to Miami Beach right now, but would like to reproduce a terrific Florida Dinner at home, Eat at Joe's: The Joe's Stone Crab Restaurant Cookbook can be purchased here.  Or find other recipes from Joe's , such as remoulade, honey mustard, or the restaurant's yummy vinaigrette sauce here.

One of my friends replied to my email when I sent her the recipe,  "I don't have to make it, thank you very much.  I just buy Key Lime Mustard Sauce!"  Well,  lucky her, newly returned from the Keys.  As every seafood-eating Floridian knows (and especially us "crackers" who learned to love this when we went to the Florida Keys each year for Lobster Season), Floribbean Key Lie Mustard Sauce is wonderful.  Just wonderful.  Billed as "The Official Mustard Sauce of the Northern Most Territories of the Conch Republic," this sauce is almost as much of a legend as that from Joe's Stone Crab Restaurant! And it goes with any kind of seafood--you can trust me on this!

On my last visit to my niece Ashley's in Naples, Florida, she gave me a bottle of this luscious sauce.  She and her husband buy it by the case--yes, the case--from Largo Cargo, a great site for all sorts of tropical-inspired edibles such as West Indies Ginger BBQ Sauce, Mango-Poppy Dressing and Marinade, and Mango Pepper Jelly, Key Lime Savory Oil, and more.  Yep, thirty-five years or more out of the States, and I am still a Florida cracker at heart--these products call to me from across the Gulf of Mexico.  Call to this cracker heart.

Another view...trying to avoid the glare...

And where do you eat Stone Crab Claws with Mustard Dipping Sauce?

By the pool, oh the pool on a balmy Florida evening

You might enjoy these links to more Stone Crab Claw recipes:

This one includes a video on how to clean and pick over stone crab claws.

This source for ordering frozen stone crab claws includes recipes.

Interested in Emeril Lagasse's creole take on stone crab claws and sauce?  Click here.

And this site includes a mustard sauce with horseradish.  And another with sherry.

And perhaps this is the most complete information of all on stone crabs.


Happy Holidays!

Victoria Challancin
Flavors of the Sun International Cooking School
San Miguel de Allende, México

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