Have you ever been intimidated shopping for crab at the grocery store, or cooking it at home? It happens to me all the time. Which is why I decided enough is enough, and gave myself a tutorial on the types of crab I’m likely to find, and how to cook them. Why? Because crab is delicious.
I can trace my love of crab to three specific incidents. First, I remember as a young boy sitting at a restaurant, Don’s Fishmarket & Tavern (which is long gone) with my parents, sister, and grandmother. At the time, I wasn’t that into seafood, so I wasn’t thrilled to be there. The good news is that they actually had a pretty nice burger, and great tempura-battered shrimp. Anyway, I don’t much remember what I ordered, but I do remember what my grandmother ordered: soft-shell crabs. I’d never heard of ‘em, never seen ‘em, and never tasted ‘em.
I came to find out that soft-shell crabs were kind of rare–at least in Illinois–and typically had to be in season for them to appear on a restaurant’s menu. My grandma seemed to be pretty happy that soft shells were in season on this particular occasion. As the meal progressed, it became evident that while my grandmother loved her meal, she was not going to finish. Because I was a growing boy who ate a lot, and she came from a family that may have founded the clean plate club, she asked me if I wanted to finish off the last of her meal. I looked around, shrugged, and said, “Okay. So, I eat everything? Legs, claws, and all?” My mom replied, “Yeah, it’s all soft, and you can eat everything.” I took a piece, popped it in my mouth, and thought, “Now this is seafood I can get behind!”
Scientific name: Menippe mercenaria
Also known as: Florida stone crab
Harvest season: Mid-October to mid-May
The stone crab is native to a part of the Atlantic Ocean spreading from the northeast region of the United States, all the way down to Central America. It can also be found in parts of the Gulf of Mexico, and saltwater marsh areas of the southeastern United States (most notably South Carolina and Georgia). Much of the stone crab that’s consumed in the United States comes from the Gulf. Interestingly, stone crabs are consumed for their claws because there’s not much to the rest of them. The claws, though, can be quite large and meaty. Moreover, because of this, fisheries look to declaw the crabs (either singular or dual removal) and return them to the ocean. Some crabs even grow their claws back. The best way to enjoy some cooked claws is with a mustard sauce made famous by Joe’s Stone Crab.