After the holidays have ended in snowy Chicago, a trip to warmer climates is in order. This year, we're in Miami Beach, Florida, USA and a winter trip to this area wouldn't be complete without good Cuban food and the region's famous stone crab claws.
The Florida stone crab is found only in the western Atlantic. It gets its name from its extremely hard shell. In good restaurants the shells are always cracked for you before the crab claws are presented at table. Stone crab claws are best served cold and can be ordered in a variety of sizes. If the meat does not come out easily, it has likely been frozen. It is for this reason you only want to eat stone crab in season and fresh (never previously frozen.)
Stone crab lose their limbs easily, which is helpful in nature so that they may escape predators or tight spaces. Thankfully, when the claw is severed at the proper location, the wound heals quickly and their limbs grow back, which takes about one year to grow to normal size. Each time the crab molts, the new claw grows larger. For years it was thought that it was necessary to harvest the crab claws by removing only one so that the crab could still defend itself when returned to the water. However, recent studies have shown that removing both claws forces the crab to eat sea grass which helps to regenerate their claws faster and female stone crab are more prolific since they are unable to fend off the advances of the male crabs. The crabs are captured in baited traps as no spears or hooks are allowed to ensure crabs are returned to the sea in the best possible condition. Claws must reach a certain minimum size before they may be harvested, but the largest sizes (called "colossal") are most prized for dining. Unlike lobster, the larger sizes are not more tough and provide the most meat for the least work. A colossal claw can weigh 25 ounces or more and easily be the size of a man's hand. Since stone crab season in Florida runs from October 15th to May 15th, we are here at the perfect time for this tasty dish.
The most popular place to eat this local favorite is at Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach which opened in 1917. If you are in the area, be sure to check it out! Most other local restaurants will also have stone crab claws on the menu, but no one serves more than Joe's so you are assured of freshness. Be warned however, that Joes' does not take reservations and a wait of less than hour is unusual.
Joe's serves stone crab claws chilled and cracked, with their signature mustard sauce. The wait staff usually recommend the homemade Manhattan Clam Chowder to start, followed by the claws accompanied by coleslaw, hash browns, and creamed spinach. Go with tradition! While there you should top off the meal with their delicious key lime pie. The meal will be expensive, but this rare opportunity and should not be missed while you are in the region.