"Did you catch them or buy them?" I asked my son John Laubenthal when he sent me this photo. " I caught them glove-handed," he replied. John lives on the lagoon in Panama City and catches/eats all things marine.
The apple does not fall far from the tree. I can eat my weight in anything that comes from the sea. When I was in Maine few years ago, I gobbled down fresh lobster at least three times a day for an entire week, and the last time I visited my son in Panama City, my friend Carol and I ate a bushel of gulf oysters as fast as John could shuck them--and he is fast.
Carol and I both eschew crackers, preferring to eat our oysters au naturel with just a smidge of chili sauce and horseradish, or with a dash of Tabasco and/or lemon. We also chew (not just bite into) our oysters in order to extract every last bit of flavor from the briny bivalves. If I could get my hands on some stone crab right now, I would eat as many claws as I could extract. However, for the time being, stone crabs will have to remain a vicarious pleasure.
Dr. John sent me the following description of his latest sport: stone crabbin'. Crabbing is not a sport for the timid or the faint of heart. Stone crabs, or menippe mercenaria, inhabit a less than hospitable world and do not go gentle into that good night, as is evident from John's crabbin' tale.
"Well I did something new & fun today... Went 'Stone Crabbin' on the Triton with my buddy Capt. Rod... Opening Day was Oct.15 & here's the deal... You snorkel around (or wade depending on depth) in about 2.5' - 8' of (cold) water (remember it's Oct.) over grass flats (same areas we trout fish, but a little deeper on average than we 'blue crab')... You look for his hole (marked by a 'doormat' of sand covered with bits of shells left from the scallops he's eaten)... Then it gets interesting..
"Lee Van [John is addressing his endodontist friend], it's a little like a 'root canal on a pissed off dog' with no anesthesia)... You take a deep breath & quickly & carefully (note being both quick & careful is much harder than it may sound)... again QUICKLY & CAREFULLY stick your hand/arm (at least up to the elbow & sometimes to the shoulder) in his hole FEELING for the Stone Crab (who of course is pretty alert & rather paranoid & does not like you) & you grab him while trying to quickly assess (I repeat QUICKLY) what & where you've grabbed the tiny killing machine & while also assessing whether you think he can pinch you in 1 sec., 2 sec., or 3 seconds... If less than 1 second. you have a problem... If 2-3 seconds. you have time to pull him out (remember quickly) & then play a good ole boy version of 'hot potato' trying not to drop him but mostly trying to avoid getting pinched...
If the crab has 'legal' claws greater 2.75" then you break 1 (or both) off & send him on his way... Rod & I got about 2 dozen (~1 gallon) of claws today in 3-4 hrs & I got about 1/2 of them (which Rod said was 'damn good' for my 1st effort)...
I have to admit that the best part was eating them... One of the best things I ever tasted (better than any I've ever had)... As with most things, fresh is everything & these were as fresh as they get... Rod also taught me how to cook them (blanch for 1-2 minutes only) and do not ever re-heat them after they're blanched or you've ruined them... They were incredible... I ate 2/3 of mine tonight and will eat the 5 biggest ones for supper tomorrow... Anyway, that sport is on my list of "repeats" as dad would say... So who's 'Iin for the next trip?"
Lest you think my son unduly cruel, let me hasten to add that you can harvest the claws without harming the crabs. Stone crabs are capable of growing back their purloined claws. Just like the starfish regenerates a lost limb, the stone crab simply grows another claw. Here is a bit of stone crab trivia from the October 15 edition of the St Petersburg Times.
"This crustacean has the distinction of being the only truly sustainable marine fishery in the United States. One of two stone crab species found in Florida waters, they have tasty claws filled with succulent and prized meat. Over time they developed a brilliant and unique way of dealing with predators. If a predator, fish or human, takes hold of a claw, the stone crab can simply 'release' it and continue on its way. Eventually, the claw will grow back, so that's why it is not unusual to see a crab with one claw larger than the other."
I don't think I will be sticking my hands into any stone crab holes in the near future, but I would certainly love to be in Panama City during stone crab season.
---Penne J. Laubenthal