Other Names: Latin name Menippe mercenaria, it is also called "moro" or "morro" crab.
Identification & Biology: Stone crabs are brownish red in color, with a grey spotted shell and a tan underbelly. They have one large and one small claw, both with black tips. The larger is referred to as the crusher claw, and the smaller is known as the pincer claw. Typical stone crabs prefer the bottoms of bays, oyster reefs or rick jetties. Unlike many other crab species, stone crabs do not burrow, but rather hide among rocks or in seagrass beds. Stone crabs feed on small mollusks like oysters and other crustaceans.
Range & Habitat: Although stone crabs are found along the coast from North Carolina to Mexico, most of the harvest comes from Florida, where it is a prized delicacy harvested from October 15 to May 15.
Market Description: Only the claws are eaten, so fishermen twist off one claw from crabs and toss them back to grow a new one. Egg bearing females are not allowed to be declawed. The crabs are captured in baited traps. No spears or hooks are allowed. Four inches from the first joint to the tip is the minimum legal size, that's about two ounces. A colossal can weigh 25 ounces or more. The large crusher claw can exert extreme pressure. (As much as 19,000 lbs. per square inch.!) Although their massive claws serve as deterrents to most predators, fishermen have reported the stone crab falls prey to the octopus. Crabs will regenerate their claws within 18 months. They are left with one claw to defend themselves. To determine which claws have the most meat, they are floated in a tank of water, with the less meaty claws rising and being sold as "lights."
Buying Tips: Freezing or icing raw stone crab claws causes the meat to stick to the inside of the shell. The law requires the claws to be boiled for 7 minutes and then either put on ice or frozen. The freezing process seems to remove an unpleasant iodine taste, which is often noticed in the meat. Claws are cooked by placing the crabs in boiling water and heating the water back to a boil. Running cold water over the cooked claws is often suggested to insure the meat does not stick to the shells. When purchasing cooked stone crab claws, freshness can only be judged on the basis of a mild odor.
Store cooked claws in the refrigerator at 32-35 degrees F. or packed in ice no longer than 2-3 days. If purchased freshly cooked and frozen in the shell the same day, the shelf life of the claw is about 6 months. The shell protects the meat during freezing so freeze only claws that are intact. Frozen stone crab claws are best when thawed in the refrigerator for 12-18 hours before using.
Recommended Preparation: Stone Crab meat is characterized by a firm texture and a sweet, succulent flavor. To serve, the claws are cracked with a mallet and served cold with dipping sauces. Most people are purists when it comes to stone crab meat, and prefer it cold or steamed only long enough to heat it, and then served with clarified butter or, warm lemon butter. Minimum size for claws is 2-2.75 ounces. A good guideline with purchasing crab claws is to allow 1 pound per person. Approximately 2 ½ pounds cooked stone crab claws are required to one pound crabmeat.
Nutritional Value: A cooked 3 ounce portion of crab meat contains 60 calories, no fat, 15 gm protein, 45 mg cholesterol, 300 mg sodium, and 4 gm calcium.