Stone crab season is upon us, and with it comes some of the year’s most exceptional showings of South Florida cuisine. Cooler weather between mid-October and mid-May draws an abundance of shellfish to the Florida peninsula’s southern tip, assuring that the region’s fisherman traps are brimming with stone crabs. And this is good news for all manners of seafood aficionados, whether they are based in the area or just planning a South Florida escape.
Upon their arrival in Miami this special time of year, visitors will discover a bounty of ways to indulge in one of South Florida’s most prized natural commodities. Between the exquisite stone crab menu options at Acqualina Resort & Residences and the Magic City’s renowned culinary scene, visitors to this dazzling corner of the Atlantic coast are in for a gourmet treat.
Don’t let the “stone” in stone crab throw you off. Unlike the firmness of lobster, stone crab meat has a distinctly tender yet flaky texture while exhibiting a sweet and mild flavor profile. While the crab body itself contains meat, it’s the claw in particular that chefs and diners pay most attention to.
Photo: Ines Hegedus-Garcia via Flickr / CC BY
Part of the exclusivity of this coveted Florida specialty is actually centered in sustainability. Stone crab harvests are continually monitored to ensure their populations stay strong and steady for seasons to come, and laws dictate that only one oversized claw (at least 2-3/4 inches long) can be harvested before each crab is returned to the sea, where it has the ability to regenerate a new one up to four times.
The bounty of incoming claws this time of year, however, is only half of the equation — it takes a culinary master to transform them into truly rave-worthy stone crab dishes. And that’s where legendary restaurants like Joe’s Stone Crab shine the brightest. One of Miami’s most sought-after culinary institutions, Joe’s supplies its iconic kitchen with an average of 500,000 pounds of claws per year between two fisheries in the Florida Keys.
“The fishermen have to know what the good claws are when they’re on the body, and that’s very hard to do, but the really good fishermen know that,” the restaurant’s co-owner Stephen Sawitz shared with Patch in 2018. “The ones that are filled with meat, you can feel it when you lift up the crab.”
Photo: AndonicO via Wikimedia Commons / CC BY
Now in the midst of its 106th season, the enduring establishment continues to purvey authentic stone crab creations, a gastronomical legacy that predates Miami Beach itself and attracts some of the most discerning diners across the world.
Meanwhile, on the idyllic shore of Sunny Isles Beach, the talented culinary team at Acqualina Resort & Residences also has a few tricks up its sleeves in crafting exceptional renditions of stone crab.
“We offer it in a variety of ways,” says Head Chef Jose Casals, who oversees the fine cuisine selections at Costa Grill, as well as the resort’s event, banquet, and spa menus. At Costa Grill’s specialty seafood barbecue feast, for instance, Casals and crew provide guests the opportunity to taste fresh, wild-caught stone crabs, all while savoring a resplendent Atlantic backdrop. “When cracked, they are meaty and easy to eat,” he explains, “the flesh is delicate and tends to have a mild, fragrant, and sweet taste.”
Similar to Joe’s, Acqualina sources stone crabs from the Keys, as well as the Bahamas and Southwest Florida. No matter their origination, once the claws reach Casal’s kitchen, they are skillfully prepared into culinary works of art that are as beautifully presented as they are delicious.
Traditionally served cold and accompanied by a spicy homemade horseradish sauce, the resort’s stone crab offerings have delighted the taste buds of many discerning seafood lovers. Bringing a memorable meal full-circle, Casals also likes to complement this seasonal delicacy with one of his acclaimed side dishes.
“I like it with grilled zesty lemon asparagus, or aged balsamic glazed Brussels sprouts,” he says, “and it’s best paired with a glass of Albariño, or some sort of richer-style of champagne or sparkling wine.”
No matter what you pair your stone crab with, one thing’s for sure — you’re in for a taste of a delicacy that feels distinctly Florida.
Featured Photo: Larry Hoffman via Flickr / CC BY