For some Florida Keys residents and visitors, Oct. 15 rivals Christmas as their favorite day of the year. That’s because Oct. 15 marks the opening of the annual stone crab season — with “presents” that don’t lie gift-wrapped under a decorated tree, but instead are piled high on plates with dollops of tangy mustard sauce.
The orange-red, pale yellow and black stone crab claws contain a sweet and tender meat that’s among the Keys’ most popular delicacies. During the harvest season, which continues each year through May 15, they’re served at gourmet and casual restaurants from Key Largo to Key West, triggering a virtual stampede of seafood fans.
Typically the claws are satisfyingly large, closer in size to a big Maine lobster’s claws than a blue crab’s claws. Their commercial harvest dates back to the 1930s in Keys inshore waters, and the hard ocean floor and favorable environment support healthy local crab populations.
Claws are usually cooked immediately after being brought to the dock, by placing them in boiling water and then bringing the water back to a boil. Total cooking time is about seven or eight minutes.
To make the traditional dip for stone crab claws, mix a favorite mustard with mayonnaise or sour cream, plus extras like Worcestershire or A-1 sauce and salt and pepper to taste.
The Keys are Florida’s top supplier of the prized claws, which are considered a renewable resource because of the crabs’ ability to regrow harvested claws. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of stone crab claws are served at local markets and restaurants or distributed around the nation.
One of the most popular spots in the island chain to savor stone crab is Marathon’s Keys Fisheries. The super-casual eatery lies in an industrial region off the Overseas Highway, right on the waterfront and surrounded by commercial docks.
A favorite gathering place for locals, the establishment has a funky atmosphere that perfectly exemplifies the Keys’ laid-back style. And its stone crab claws have that fresh-off-the-boat flavor that can’t be topped.
Not able to travel to the Florida Keys during Stone Crab Season, several of the aforementioned establishments offer shipping across the US.
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com