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Date of Issue: October 25, 2007

Opening day arrives for stone crab season

Stone-crab.jpg
Stone crab claws. Islander Photo: Courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife

They stood in line Oct. 15 outside Moore’s Stone Crab Restaurant on Longboat Key and at the door to the Cortez Bait and Seafood Shop in Cortez.

They also stood in line at seafood shops and restaurants from the Keys to Pensacola, Naples to Miami.

October brings the post-season fever of Major League Baseball. It also brings opening day of the stone crab season.

The harvesting season for Florida’s stone crab claws - only claws at least 2 3/4 inches in length can be taken and the crabs are returned to the sea - began Oct. 15 and continues through seven succulent months to May 15.

An estimated 1,200 crabbers are working the coastal waters, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. About 50 crabbers in Manatee County hold “endorsements” to commercially harvest stone crab claws.

Most of the stone crab claws will be harvested from Florida’s Gulf Coast, said FWC spokesman Lee Schlesinger. And most of the claws from the Gulf Coast will be harvested in the Monroe County area.

In the weeks leading up to the season, crabbers in Cortez were busy preparing traps and vessels.

On Oct. 15, workers in the historic fishing village were busy unloading, cooking and icing the claws that went into the fresh seafood cases in local markets and off to nearby restaurants to be sold for about $12 per pound for medium claws and $30 or more per pound for jumbos.

“The first of the season claws are wonderful,” said Cortez Bait and Seafood customer Pete Miller of Lakewood Ranch. “It’s an expense we budget for.”

At A.P. Bell Fish and Company in Cortez, Walter Bell seemed less than enthusiastic about the opening day’s pull from local waters. “Well, they’re catching quite a few north, but not much in this area,” he said. “If I was a crab fisherman, I’d be headed north.”

Bell said he heard of 7,000-pound pulls on opening day in Homosassa, and compared that to 200-pound pulls in the Tampa Bay area.

Retail clerk Alice Sistek observed the first day’s pull at the Cortez Bait and Seafood Market. “They were really big and beautiful,” she said of the stone crab claws.

She arrived to work about 15 minutes early that morning and found several people already waiting to make an opening-day purchase.

“I thought the first day was awesome,” said Sistek, a rookie in the stone crab business.

“The first day’s pull was positive,” agreed Alan Moore, co-owner of Moore’s Stone Crab Restaurant, 800 Broadway St., Longboat Key. “It wasn’t huge, but it was a bit above average.”

The restaurant, as its name implies, serves as a major market for stone crab claws in Manatee County. “It’s our bread and butter,” Moore said of the stone crab harvest.

On opening day, Moore said the restaurant purchased about 400-500 pounds of stone crab claws from local commercial crabbers.

The restaurant sold a lot of those claws. “People were waiting for the doors to open for lunch,” Moore said, adding that “the phones started ringing off the walls.”

The enthusiasm for stone crab claws also has helped the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort on Longboat Key sell out several events during its 18th annual Stone Crab, Seafood and Wine Festival.

The festival, featuring celebrity chefs such as the Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern, will take place Oct. 25-28 at the Colony, 1620 Gulf of Mexico Drive. By Oct. 17, tickets to a culinary demonstration and a seven-course chefs’ collaboration dinner were sold out. Still open to the public is the wine and seafood tasting on the beach on Friday, Oct. 26. During the tasting, guest chefs will serve their favorite seafood creations, incorporating stone crab into the dish.

“It’s an intimate weekend,” said Colony marketing director Trish Lorino. “You really get to interact with the chefs and the vintors.”

While the Colony’s festival draws a national audience, the local population mostly makes up the early market for the stone crab claws in Sarasota and Manatee counties, Moore said.

Prices for stone crab claws are not yet fixed, because crabbers and restaurateurs don’t yet have a fix on the catch for the season.

“It’s like anything else,” Moore said. “It’s all supply and demand and you can’t really tell until the first of the year how the season is going to go. You have to give it a good two to three months to see.”

What Moore knows for certain is that stone crab is a hot commodity, whether served chilled with mustard sauce or warm with drawn butter.

 

Florida stone crab goes on the menu

The stone crab season opened Monday, Oct. 15. In celebration of this Sunshine State season, The Islander offers these recipes, or, either simply melt some butter for a quick-and-easy dish. Another favorite: head out to an area restaurant for the ultimate in simplicity.

The season lasts until May 15, 2008.

Stone Crab Claws Miami

Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds medium Florida stone crab claws.
  • 1/4 cup olive oil.
  • 1/4 cup extra-dry vermouth.
  • 2 tablespoons Florida lemon juice.
  • 1 teaspoon salt.
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper.

Directions:

Crack claws and remove shell and movable pincer, leaving the meat attached to the remaining pincer. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add stone crab claws and cook for 3-4 minutes until heated through, turning claws frequently. Turn heat to high; add vermouth, lemon juice, salt and pepper to pan. Cook a minute more, spooning vermouth sauce over claws. Serve claws hot or cold as an appetizer or entree.

Curried Stone Crab Claws with Hot Marmalade Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds medium Florida stone crab claws.
  • 1/3 cup orange marmalade.
  • 1/4 cup Florida lime juice.
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce.
  • 1 clove Florida garlic, minced.
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch.
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened.
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder.

Directions:

Crack claws and remove shell and movable pincer, leaving the meat attached to the remaining pincer. Set aside. In a medium saucepan combine marmalade, lime juice, soy sauce, garlic and cornstarch; mix well. Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly, until sauce is clear and thickened. Reduce heat and keep warm. In a large sauté pan, melt butter on medium heat; stir in curry powder. Add stone crab claws; turn to coat with curry butter. Sauté for 2-3 minutes until claws are heated through. Serve with hot marmalade.

Mango Marinated Stone Crab Claws

Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds medium Florida stone crab claws.
  • 2 cups ripe Florida mango, cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
  • 3 tablespoons Florida cilantro, finely chopped.
  • 2 Florida jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced.
  • 4 tablespoons Florida lime juice.
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar.
  • Florida salad greens.

Directions:

Crack claws and remove shell and movable pincer, leaving the meat attached to the remaining pincer. Place in a single layer in a shallow dish. To make salsa marinade, combine mango, cilantro, peppers, lime juice and sugar in a mixing bowl. Taste for seasoning, adding more lime juice and/or brown sugar as needed. Spoon the salsa mixture over the meaty part of crab claws. Cover and marinate in refrigerator at least two hours. Serve claws on a bed of salad greens with mango salsa as an appetizer.

Source: Florida Bureau of Seafood and Aquaculture Marketing

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