They are stone-cold delicious

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Around here, the stone crab rules the dining scene this time of year

By Jane Bartnett

A delectable Florida delicacy found primarily in the waters of the Sunshine State is available to enjoy through the winter months and into the early days of spring. This year’s stone crab catches that became available on Oct. 15 are abundant and delicious. May 1 will close out this year’s stone crab season.
The Fresh Catch Fish Market & Grill, just blocks away from the Gulf Gate neighborhood near the intersection of Stickney Point Road, is considered one of the best places in the Siesta Key region to enjoy a meal of stone crabs. Enjoy them in the restaurant, at 7119 S. Tamiami Trail, or take them home.

Bob Provost of Fresh Catch Fish Market & Grill is ready to please his customers with the one and only stone crab. (photos by Jane Bartnett)

Co-owner Bob Provost says that local diners have been delighted with this year’s stone crab selection.
“Our stone crabber delivers the fresh claws daily. We’ve been working with him exclusively for close to seven years since we opened in February 2016,” Provost said, noting they come directly from the local Gulf of Mexico waters. “He harvests 6,000 stone crabs each day during the season.”
They can also be found in the waters of the Intracoastal Waterway. However, Provost said, “The Intracoastal stone crabs have a different flavor than those that come from the Gulf. Our stone crabs come only from nearby Gulf waters and our crabber goes about a mile out from shore.”
To prepare the stone crabs at the restaurant, Provost cracks the crab claws open with a special cracking device. Once plated and served, they’re ready to be enjoyed. The sweet-tasting crabmeat is so light and delicate that it can be eaten without any added flavoring, one small forkful at a time.
Provost, however, suggests a traditional approach to enjoying a stone crab: dipping the forkful of crabmeat in warm melted butter.
And many of his customers enjoy dipping the stone crab meat into the special house white mustard sauce. “Some people like their stone crabs warmed up but most enjoy them served at room temperature or cold,” he said.
And freshness goes a long way, especially with stone crabs.
“Stone crabs should always be eaten fresh and never frozen,” Provost said. “It’s a sweet flaky crab that’s totally different than other crabs. They’re best when harvested locally. They’ve been popular as long as Florida has been around.”

For the uninitiated, Provost noted that, unlike lesser forms of crab meat, stone crabs should never, ever be tossed with mayonnaise and turned into a stone crab salad or a crab cake. His only other recommendation, aside from enjoying them fresh, is to enjoy a bowl of his cream-based, Fresh Catch stone crab soup, served with a medium crab craw. At $14, it sounds like a perfect lunch on a cool winter day.
Commercial stone crab fishing is closely monitored by the Crustacean Fisheries Group, a part of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The commission also carries out continuous research of the stone crabs through the year.
Unlike other crabs, only the claws of the stone crab are harvested. The crab is returned to the water where a new claw will be regenerated. Most commercial fishermen collect stone crabs in baited traps.
Although the smooth, heavy and thick hard-shelled crabs thrive in Florida’s Gulf Coast waters as well as on the Atlantic side of the state, they can also be found as far north as North Carolina and off the coast of Belize to the south.
According to the commission, “the Florida stone crab fishery makes up 99% of all stone crab landings in the United States.”
Befitting their status as a seasonal treasure of the culinary seafood world, stone crabs carry a steep price tag. The good news is, Provost has managed to avoid a recent increase. “We kept our stone crab prices the same as last year,” he said.
During last year’s season, customers of the Fresh Catch Fish Market & Grill bought a thousand pounds of stone crabs. This year, Provost expects to do the same, if not more. “As of mid-December, we’ve already sold over 600 pounds,” he said.
Sold by the pound, Fresh Catch categorizes and prices them by the size of the claw. One pound of medium claws is $39. An order of large claws sells for $49 a pound. Jumbo claws are $59 per pound. The colossal claws, as they’re called, are $69 per pound.
The price per pound is the same for stone crabs purchased and served in the restaurant or for take-home orders.
When ordering by the pound, a pound of medium stone crab claws equals six to seven claws, Provost said. An order of large claws is four to five claws. A jumbo order is three claws, and a colossal order is two claws.
With several months of the winter and early spring season left, seafood lovers have plenty of time to enjoy this regional Florida delicacy. “
It’s a flavor that’s hard to beat,” said Provost.

Jane Bartnett
Author: Jane Bartnett

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