by Eric Barton | November 25, 2019
Crack into Florida Stone Crab at Home this Season
How to catch and enjoy fresh Stone Crab at home.
It just so happens that Oct. 15 is Anthony Puleio’s birthday. But despite that fact, it’s unquestionably his favorite day of the year, as it signals the start of seven months in stone crab bliss.
Every year, on the season’s opening day Puleio heads out into a wide swath of Intracoastal that intersects with the Indian River in Melbourne. He pulls up 10 traps around the bay, and if all goes right, he’ll celebrate his birthday with a stone crab feast.
He started the tradition four years ago after learning that stone crabs can be found in many Florida estuaries and along the shores, not only in South Florida, where they became famous.
That story goes: In 1921, Joseph Weiss threw some stone crabs in boiling water as an experiment and turned them into a phenomenon at his Miami restaurant. The place still bears his name, and Joe’s Stone Crab is still the state’s most iconic buyer of the orange and black shellfish.
The commercial stone crab industry in Florida harvests as much as 3.5 million pounds of crabs a year. Last season red tide crushed the bounty, however, knocking the haul down to about 2 million pounds. Stone crabs are a rare sustainable fishery. After pulling them up from the traps, fishermen break off the crabs’ claws before throwing them back, so the pinchers can regenerate.
In Florida anyone with a recreational fishing license and who completes the free stone crab registration on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s website can set up to five stone crab traps. For Puleio and his 5-year-old son, who might like the trips even more than dad, that’s 10 traps total.
The traps require 20 pounds of concrete to hold them on the bottom. Most people use pig feet or fish carcasses as bait. Puleio says his best haul was 38 crabs on one glorious day.
Puleio’s two daughters, 4 and 8, sometimes come along, and Puleio always enjoys bringing friends, who have no idea how easy it is to harvest stone crabs. “Even a lot of my close friends are like, ‘No way! You’re catching stone crabs in the river? In the Indian River?’”
FRESH CAUGHT FLORIDA STONE CRAB
Stone crabs must be prepared shortly after harvesting; commercial operations cook them right at the dock. Puleio keeps them
in a cooler, without ice, for the duration of his fishing trip, then cooks them as soon as he gets home.
HOW TO COOK STONE CRAB CLAWS
- Boil fresh stone crab claws in well-salted water for 5 to 7 minutes, or until they turn orange.
- Shock claws in an ice bath immediately to stop the cooking and help separate the meat from the shells.
- Cover cooled shells with a towel and smack them with a large spoon until cracked all over.
- Remove the top of the claws to expose the meat.
THREE WAYS TO COOK STONE CRAB (and one to avoid)
- Puleio recommends simply dipping the stone crabs in butter seasoned with garlic salt. “They are so tasty and fresh, you don’t need anything else.”
- At Joe’s, stone crabs are famously served with a tangy, creamy mustard sauce (1 cup mayo, 2 tablespoons light cream, 1 tablespoon Colman’s dry mustard, 2 teaspoons Worcestershire, 1 teaspoon A-1 sauce and salt to taste)
- If, like Puleio, you end up with a bounty of fresh-caught stone crabs, you might actually have leftovers. After four days or so, when the claws might begin to taste fishy, Puleio recommends using the meat in any recipe that calls for blue crab. It adds a sweetness to Maryland crab cakes.
- Whatever you do, Puleio recommends against inviting everybody over to share the bounty you’re about to harvest from your recreational traps. While some days he returns with a haul, empty traps always remind him not to plan parties around fickle crabs.