Stone Crab Claws!

SFLFclaws2Excerpts from Seafood Lover’s Florida:

Florida stone crab season runs from October 15th to May 15th. Stone crab claw harvesting is unique in the crab-collecting world. The crab survives. Stone crab fishermen take only the single larger claw, and return the live crab to the sea where they will grow a new claw.

As for cracking stone crab claws, everybody seems to have their own “definitive” way to go about it, and I am no exception. Most use some type of hinged cracker or a mallet, but I find that both risk smashing some of the meat along with the shell. My technique uses a large metal stirring spoon in the right hand, and the stone crab claw cupped in the left hand. The cupping is important because it distributes the shock of the whack throughout the claw, thereby minimizing the impact on one spot. The spoon is turned around backwards so that you are whacking with the rounded part. The trick is to not hit too hard, just “flick” the claw (and knuckles) with several moderate hits until a few cracks spider-web across each other. Then stop. You’re done. Pull the cracked shell pieces off the meat and enjoy.

Joe’s Stone Crab: Perhaps no Miami restaurant, seafood or otherwise, is as legendary and iconic as Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami Beach. Joseph and Jennie Weiss had emigrated from Hungary to New York, but Joseph’s persistent asthma convinced them to move, with six-year-old son Jesse in tow, to the warmer climes of Florida in 1913. They landed in Miami Beach, but the Miami Beach of 1913 shared no resemblance with the one we know today. At first Joseph ran a small lunch counter at the local swimming pool. In five years the Weiss’ had saved enough to buy a tiny bungalow, where they lived and set up tables out back, turning their new home into a restaurant of sorts. They served mostly seafood (but no stone crabs, yet) and there were no other restaurants around, so what they simply called “Joe’s” quickly became popular. In 1921 an aquarium went up at the south end of Miami Beach, and one day one of the aquarium scientists brought some live stone crabs into the restaurant. Joe and his cooks experimented with various ways to cook them and found that boiling, and then chilling, worked best. Back then they sold five claws for seventy-five cents. There may be some argument about who was the first to eat a stone crab claw, but nearly everyone agrees, Joe’s was the first to serve it in a restaurant. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Joe’s son Jesse Weiss gets credit for growing Joe’s Stone Crab into the colossal business that it is now, and the Weiss Family (four generations later) still owns and runs it today. Joe’s now occupies half the city block between Washington Avenue, Collins Court, and South Pointe Drive, plus a good bit of the parking between Collins Court and Collins Avenue. Famously, they do not take reservations. Two-hour dinner waits are the norm. Just put your name on the list with the maître d’ and then go take a walk, or sit at the bar and watch for celebrities. Here’s my best Joe’s tip: go for lunch instead of dinner and get there right at 11:30 when they open. Tip number two: do get a side order of the hash browns. They are the best you’ve ever eaten, and the “small” order is enough to split between four people. And the stone crabs? This is the food of the gods. Nothing is better in the seafood world. Of course they’re not seventy-five cents for five claws anymore. The price varies with the market. I paid sixty dollars for five large claws, one of my more expensive book research meals, and believe me worth every penny!

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Bruce Hunt

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