Listen, temperatures in the city (an often written about subject on this blog) are rising. It’s almost going to be in the high 70’s today. This is our one week of actual spring, and then summer will hit with all its sweaty, non-air conditioned subway cars and skyrocketing A/C unit-fueled ConEd bills. But, thankfully, warmer weather also means that you can sit outside for lunch, illegally bask in the sun on your apartment’s tar-covered rooftop, and eat lots and lots of summertime foods.
For me, warm weather reminds me of my home in Florida and the foods I loved eating growing up. Crabs, in particular, hold a special place in my heart. Crabs were always too much work for too little food for my father and unappealing to my younger sister. So, crabs became a dish I always shared with my mother. Most of the time we’d make an unplanned run to the fish market, buy a dozen blue crabs, steam them at home, and eat them sitting across from each other at the dining table with her homemade dipping sauce. By the end of the meal our fingers would be pruney from picking the meat from the crab’s crevices and we’d smell like the ocean.
This is why crab cracking is something I only partake in with my nearest and dearest of friends. You have to be willing to get elbow deep in some crab muck, pick around for tiny morsels of meat, and end up looking like you went through a car wash that exclusively douses patrons in crab innards. It takes a certain level of trust to engage in that kind of down and dirty meal with someone.
Now when I go home for Christmas my mom will always make sure to have seafood awaiting my arrival. Lobster, king crab, and clams were all a part of last year’s Christmas dinner, but my favorites were always the local North Florida fares. Wild caught Florida blue crabs from the Gulf of Mexico, stone crab claws from south Florida, and crawfish will always hold my Sunshine State heart hostage. These crustaceans, served steamed alongside a pungent dipping sauce of lime, ginger, garlic and fish sauce echoing my mother’s Thai and Laotian heritage, will always be a meeting place for the two of us. I know that I can always look up from the broken shells on my plate, past my pruney fingers, to see my mother sitting across the table, tearing into her own stack of crabs, smiling back at me.
This recipe for steamed stone crab claws and Thai dipping sauce is a way for me to have a little of that love many miles away in New York City. Stone crab claws are large, meaty mouthfuls of home. Plus, they’re a semi-sustainable seafood. After one of the two claws is harvested, the crabs are thrown back into the ocean to regenerate another claw. Each harvested claw has to be at least 2 ¾ inches long to be taken from the crab. However, they do have to be transported to the NYC area which cuts down on the sustainability a bit.
The first time I enjoyed stone crab was from Joe’s Stone Crab (not to be confused with Joe’s Crab Shack!), a Miami landmark for seafood. Though I think they’re best from Joe’s, these are pretty damn tasty, thankfully entail much less mess than cracking whole blue crabs, and take only about 15 minutes to cook from start to finish.
Steam Stone Crab Claws with Thai Dipping Sauce
Serves 2 for dinner, or 4 for a large appetizer
24 Stone Crab Claws
½ Cup of Fish Sauce (I use Golden Boy Brand)
1 ½ Limes, Juiced
3 Cloves of Garlic, Peeled and Diced
1 ½ Inch of Ginger, Peeled and Diced
1 to 2 Bird’s Eye Chili Peppers, Sliced
1 Teaspoon of Sugar
Bring about an inch and a half of water to a rolling boil in a pot and insert a steamer basket into the pot.
Once the water is boiling, put a layer of claws into your steamer basket and cover the pot. Make sure to only cook one layer of claws at a time, so they cook evenly. Cook your claws for about five to six minutes, until they are a bright orange-red color. Repeat until all claws are cooked through.
While the claws are steaming, combine ginger and garlic in a mortar and pestle and crush to combine. Add the garlic and ginger to a small mixing bowl and add remaining ingredients. Whisk together.
You can then serve the crab claws immediately and eat them while they’re hot, or chill on a covered platter until you’re ready to serve. I like to serve these with a side of jasmine rice cooked with extra slivers of ginger to infuse it with some additional flavor.
How to crack your claws:
- Place a cutting board on a flat surface and surround the claw with a towel
- Tap each claw with a mallet, rolling pin, or the back of a heavy kitchen knife, carefully
- Remove meat from the claw and dip in the sauce
- Enjoy immediately, or chill in the shell until ready to serve.