In season: stone crab claws

Holiday dinners and parties give us permission to splurge on special treats for our family and friends. Perhaps one of the most special is the stone crab claw, a seasonal treat harvested in Florida during a season that runs from October 15 to May 15.

Stone crab claws are available from local seafood shops such as Kathleen’s Catch in Johns Creek and Milton. Kathleen Hulsey is the proprietor of Kathleen’s Catch, and one of the things she says she loves is that stone crab claws are a sustainable treat. Unlike lobsters and blue crabs, which are consumed for all of their parts, only the claws of the stone crab are eaten.

“One of the things I find most interesting is that stone crabs can regenerate those claws. The crabbers pull up their traps, check the claws for size, twist off the claws that are harvestable size and the crab is released to swim away to grow a new one.”

The crabs use their claws to defend themselves and to eat. The species has developed the ability to drop the claws as a defense in battle or if the claw is injured. Harvesters take advantage of this ability and carefully snap off just one claw, leaving the crab with its second claw, and the crab will replace the missing claw by growing a new one in about a year.

Stone crabs grow in Atlantic waters from North Carolina south to the Florida Keys and around the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico. Commercially available stone crab claws are all harvested in Florida.

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“The crabbers steam them on the boat and then the claws are shipped by refrigerated truck from Miami up the coast all the way to Maine every day,” Kathleen Hulsey said. “That means those trucks come right through Atlanta and we can get seafood delivered every day. Between the highway system and the airport, the Atlanta area is a great place to have a seafood market.”

Freshly purchased stone crab claws will keep up to three days.

“I tell people anything in my store is good for tomorrow and easily for two days,” Hulsey said. “Stone claws last a long time out of the water, but, as with any seafood, the sooner you eat them the better they are. They can be heated, but most people enjoy them cold as an appetizer. A platter full of stone crab claws is a great way to impress your friends.”

The smallest claws Hulsey purchases have about eight claws in a pound. But she can also get claws that weigh as much as three-quarters of a pound each. “This year we’re getting mostly mediums which are between $20 and $23 a pound and large claws which can be $24 to $30 a pound. If you ask my customers, they say the bigger the claw, the better,” Husley said.

It does take a little work to get at the meat. “I tell my customers to wrap the claw in a kitchen towel and tap it lightly with a hammer to break the shell,” said Husley. “If you hit it too hard and smash the claw, you’ll bust up the meat.”

Stone Crab Claws with Simple is Better Sauce

Joel Knox, owner of Inland Seafood, gave Hulsey the recipe for this simple but delicious sauce, a variation on the mustard sauces traditionally served with stone crab claws.

1/2 cup Dijon mustard

1/4 cup heavy cream

2 teaspoons light brown sugar

2 teaspoons prepared horseradish

Juice from 1 lemon

Chilled stone crab claws, approximately 1 pound per person

In a small bowl, stir together mustard, cream, sugar, horseradish and lemon. Taste for seasoning and refrigerate. Make at least 1 hour ahead. Keep chilled until ready to serve. Makes: 3/4 cup

Arrange your stone crab claws on a platter and put the mustard sauce into small bowls, placing them alongside the claws.

Simple is Better Sauce per 1-tablespoon serving, sauce only: 30 calories (percent of calories from fat, 69), 1 gram protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 2 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 7 milligrams cholesterol, 130 milligrams sodium.

Stone Crab Claws per 1-pound serving: 240 calories (2 percent from fat), 60 grams protein, no carbohydrates, no fiber, trace fat (no saturated fat), 180 milligrams cholesterol, 300 milligrams sodium

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