Suddenly the humidity breaks, the threat of sudden tropical storms diminishes, and a slight breeze with a hint of salt air reminds us that we're about to embark on the best time of the year: stone crab season.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Service, stone crab season starts October 15 this year and runs through May 1, 2022. That means that fresh claws will start showing up on dinner menus and in specialty stores as early as October 16.
Roger Duarte, owner of George Stone Crab, predicts a good season for stone crab lovers. "It's been great weather and that makes it easier to catch crabs," Duarte tells New Times, although he warns that Mother Nature is never predictable. "You never know if we'll have a good winter or a freak hurricane. As long as the weather holds out, though, we're going to have great product."
A good harvest doesn't mean an abundance of crabs, however. Other factors influence the equation. "There are more people in Miami than ever before. So many people have moved here from California and New York and stone crabs are an iconic item. I predict that high-end restaurants that strive to have the best stone crabs might find themselves with a stone crab shortage unless they have a good relationship with fishermen," Duarte says.
Duarte, who has been selling stone crabs since 2009, says he sources his crabs from local fishermen in the Florida Keys and sells his claws locally for home delivery and nationwide via express mail.
The stone crab maven shares some tips on how to get the best claws.
First, says Duarte, know your claw size. "There are only four industry-standard sizes: medium, large, jumbo, and colossal. Any other sizes, like 'specialty' or 'super colossal,' are simply marketing tools," he shares.
The claw sizes refer to weight. Medium claws weigh 2.5 to 3 ounces, large claws 3 to 5 ounces, jumbos 5 to 7 ounces, and colossals over 7 ounces.
When enjoying stone crabs at home, Duarte says he prefers the large and jumbo sizes. Although mediums have just as much flavor, Duarte considers them more work for a less meaty payout. "I enjoy American style, larger, quality items. Mediums just take more work and I guess I'm a little lazy," he confesses.
He suggests ordering a combination of large and jumbo claws if you're having guests. "That way, everyone can pick the claw that's right for them."
Savvy shoppers should also look for claws that are vibrantly colored. "A pastel shell color could mean the claws were previously frozen," says Duarte, who adds that a fresh stone crab claw will yield a pink gelatin when cracked. If it looks like frosting, it's probably a frozen claw.
Duarte is quick to add that there's nothing wrong with previously frozen claws. "Seafood, as a whole, is 90 percent frozen. It's how most consumers get their seafood."
That said, the sweetness and texture of a stone crab claw that was freshly harvested just a day or two before it reaches your plate is best. "There's an experiential aspect to it that can't be beat," Duarte says.
Expect to see stone crabs arriving on your favorite restaurant's menu soon, though it may take a few days past October 15 to see fresh claws on your plate.
In the meantime, you can be the first on your block to get capitalize on the harvest by preordering through the George Stone Crab website, georgestonecrab.com. Duarte will begin delivering preordered crabs locally as soon as October 16 (harvest and fishermen permitting) and will start shipping out the crabs on Monday, October 18.