You might not know it here in the middle of the country, thousands of miles from their home, but stone crab season is underway, and I, for one, couldn’t be happier.
Stone crabs weren’t a part of my lexicon when I was growing up in Chicago. In fact, I don’t believe I even knew stone crabs existed till a Joe’s Stone Crab restaurant opened in Chicago.
Joe’s, a Miami Beach, Fla., landmark, serves the claws chilled with a famous dipping sauce consisting of mustard powder, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, steak sauce, whipping cream and a little salt. I fell in love with the claws and the sauce when I first had them at Joe’s Chicago outpost, and I’ve been seeking them out ever since.
Imagine my surprise and joy when an email showed up in my inbox inviting me to celebrate the arrival of the first batch of stone crab claws for the season at Sullivan’s Steakhouse in Leawood. I couldn’t make that press event, but you can bet I got into Sullivan’s to sample the stone crab claws as soon as I could.
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While waiting for the day of my reservation, I did some research on these tasty appendages so I would be fully prepared for my meal and conversation with Sullivan’s executive chef, Wesley Boston.
“I think we’re the only restaurant in the metro that features stone crab claws,” Boston said as he stopped by our table for a chat. “They are extremely popular. I had 50 pounds flown in yesterday. I’ve got 10 pounds left tonight.”
I’m not exactly sure what makes the stone crab claws such a go-to choice for diners. For me, it’s a combination. First, they are a rather rare, seasonal and sustainable treat. Second, they are delicious.
“We really don’t do anything with them in regards to presentation, just crack ’em and put ’em on the plate with the dipping sauce,” Boston told my wife and me during our dinner. “They’re cooked right on the beach after they’re harvested, and in three hours, they’re on a plane to us sitting on a bed of crushed ice. So we don’t really have to do anything to them other than serve ’em up.”
Fortunately, this will not be my last venture to Sullivan’s for the succulent claws. The stone crab seasons runs from Oct. 15 through May 15, though I’m told the season often ends early as the harvest runs its course.
In my research, I uncovered some other interesting facts about stone crabs and their much sought after pinchers. I was most interested in their sustainability and how that is monitored. With that in mind, here are a few of the tidbits I unearthed.
▪ When a crab is caught — they use traps as they do with lobsters — only one of the claws is removed and the crab is returned to the water.
▪ The harvested claw has to be at least 23/4 inches in length for the harvest to be legal.
▪ It takes between 12 and 24 months for the claws to grow back to legal harvesting size.
▪ Egg-bearing female crabs cannot be harvested.
▪ No hooks or spears are allowed.
▪ Some 2.6 million pounds of stone crab claws are harvested in a season.
▪ Stone crab claws are sold by size: medium, large, jumbo and colossal.
We had the large at Sullivan’s, and one order, two claws, was plenty for my wife and I to split, although I could have had a couple more claws just by myself. My desire for gluttony aside, the large claws provided plenty of juicy, sweet meat and are especially nice with a glass of Champagne or sparkling wine.
I’m glad I had the chance to satisfy my appetite for this delicious delicacy, and plan to do it again, sooner rather than later.
Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, for nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado.