October is best known around the country as the start of fall season where thoughts turn to ciders and pumpkin pie. As the leaves turn to flame and most people don jackets, in Miami, however, October has a completely different meaning. Devoid of colorful foliage or flannel weather, the fall celebration is tinged with sea spray: Stone crab season.
October 15 is the official start, a six-month long time when these crustacean, native to the waters off the coast of Florida, can be fished.
In Miami, stone crab season takes on a near-holiday form with diners clamoring to be the first on their block to get the first crabs of the season. Truth be told, October 15 isn't the optimum time to get stone crabs — it’s best to wait at least a few days after the season starts. That’s because fishermen can't pull traps until that day, meaning that fresh crabs likely won’t make they way to your dinner plate for at least a few days.
The wait for fresh crabs is worth it. The first few times I had stone crabs — mostly as an appetizer at some steak house — the meat was difficult to release from the claw and the flesh was a little mushy. Later I would learn those are the telltale signs of eating frozen stone crabs.
Then a fisherman who sold his claws at a local Sunday market gave me a claw fresh from his boat. I then knew why people were infatuated with these claws: Push back on a freshly cracked claw and the meat practically slides out. The flesh is firm. And it’s sweet. Though mustard sauce is traditionally served with stone crabs, you’ll do them — and yourself — a disservice to at least experience one naked claw.
From the Keys to Miami, it’s fairly easy to get fresh stone crabs (some of the best ones literally come off trucks). If you live outside South Florida, there are purveyors who ship claws nationwide. Do your research, however.
Don’t be afraid to ask where and how the crabs are sourced. And make sure the crabs are packed in ice rather than shipped frozen. Reputable stone crab purveyors ship the crabs overnight. That means that there might only be a day or two lag from sea to your door. The process can be expensive but as with all seafood it’s really best to not go for a bargain. Here are three Miami-area companies that ship fresh stone crabs to your door:
Around since 1913, Joe’s Stone Crab is the standard bearer of all things stone crab. More than a restaurant, Joe’s is a mega purveyor of stone crabs who deal directly with fleets of fishermen whose livelihood depends on the restaurant. Joe’s ships nationwide, allowing you to choose your delivery date.
Roger Duarte owns no restaurant. Instead, his George Stone Crab solely offers claws for local Miami delivery and for shipping. Duarte sources the claws directly from the fishermen he deals with, the only way to ensure the claws are fresh and not frozen. The process for shipping claws is simple: claws are caught, boiled for eight minutes immediately after being caught before shocked with an ice water bath. The claws are then packed and shipped out.
Shelly Abramowitz started Fresh Stone Crabs in 1996, delivering fresh claws locally throughout the Miami area. The business has since expanded to offer overnight shipping of claws throughout the U.S.