The best part of fall in South Florida is the start of stone crab season, which runs Oct. 15 to May 15! Unlike lobster, which was enjoyed by European royalty in the 16th and 17th centuries, stone crabs are a relatively new delicacy.
Although they were plentiful in the waters around Florida, no one ate them because, when cooked, their meat gave off an unpleasant iodine flavor. A hard-working Miami Beach restaurant owner named Joe Weiss and a curious ichthyologist put their heads together in 1921 and cooked the crabs, then chilled them, ending that iodine flavor and putting what became Joe's Stone Crab on the map. Served with mayonnaise or Joe's famous mustard sauce, which has been imitated many times, stone crab claws have become a desirable item on menus all over the country. Stone crabs are often served with simple sides such as hash browns, corn-on-the-cob and garlic spinach, allowing the crab claws to shine as the centerpiece of the meal.
Stone crabs have an unusual built-in safety device. Their claws detach so they can get out of traps or from between rocks! Fishermen discovered this quirk of the stone crab and realized that they could trap the crabs, remove one claw and release each one safely to the wild. The claws regenerate in a year to 24 months, and the crab is not harmed by the removal. The state of Florida now allows both claws to be removed, but some fishermen still only take one so that the crab can better defend itself. To help the species sustain itself, no females with eggs are allowed to be de-clawed. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that there is no issue with over-fishing of stone crabs!
There are lots of great places to enjoy stone crabs in South Florida, including Monty's at the Miami Beach Marina and in Coconut Grove, as well as home delivery by George Stone Crabs. To this day though, the original is still king: Joe's Stone Crab has long lines and no reservations from October to May, so get there early!
P.S. Don't forget the Key Lime pie! It's the perfect finish to a stone crab dinner.