Don't blame Penn Avenue Fish Co. owner Henry Dewey if he's feeling a little crabby -- it's in a good way.
The first fruits of this year's stone crab season, which officially kicked off Oct. 15, finally are making their way north and into the Strip District fish store's display case.
So named for their hard, stony shells, stone crabs are harvested primarily from the Florida Keys and South Florida's Gulf coast. To prevent the succulent meat from sticking to the orange-red shells, the raw claws are steamed or boiled right on the boat or dockside, then packed in ice. Then they're sorted, weighed (they come in medium, large, jumbo and colossal) and bagged in mesh for delivery to retailers.
At Penn Ave. Fish, the black-tipped claws -- one of Florida's most expensive seafood delicacies -- sell for $36.99 per pound. That's roughly $20 per jumbo claw, which the fish store serves chilled and cracked, with its classic sweet mustard sauce. Similar to lobster in taste, the claws also are delicious ever-so-gently heated and dipped in melted butter.
During harvesting season, which runs to May 15, crabbers remove the claws (which must be at least 2 3/4 inches long from the tip of the immovable "finger" to the first joint) and return the live crustacean to the water. It takes about 18 months to regenerate the missing appendage.
If carefully treated, adult stone crabs can regenerate their claws three or four times. That earns the seafood a "Best Choice" rating from Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program for sustainability.
Because of extremely warm waters this fall and not a lot of wind, which agitates the crabs and causes them to scuttle into traps, the season has gotten off to a slower than usual start. But Mr. Dewey expects to have them for sale at least through the Super Bowl.
Gretchen McKay photos