Saturday, September 10, 2005

Eat and Release...How To Eat An Animal Without Killing It.

In Florida we have a lot of crabs. We have Blue Crabs, Green Crabs, Calico Crabs, Fiddler Crabs, Shame-Faced Crabs, Porcelain Crabs, Pea Crabs, Wharf Crabs, Mud Crabs,....(pauses for breath)..., Spider Crabs, Coral Crabs, Decorator Crabs, Ghost Crabs, and Stone Crabs, just to name a few.

The pile of claws in the picture are stone crab claws. I gathered these snorkeling a rock jetty. (JETTY = a line of boulders installed to prevent the natural flow of sand along a shoreline. They often increase erosion rather than control it...whole 'nother post)

A little about the personal life of stone crabs. They like stones...that is, they like hard structure to hide in. Hard structure like rocks, pilings, wrecks, etc also provide the appropriate living space for the stone crabs prey. Stone crabs have massive and very powerful claws (chelipeds for you nerds) for crushing and opening clams, oysters, scallops, mussels, and any other bivalves (2-shelled molluscs for you nonnerds) that they encounter.

Like most crabs....probably all crabs, the stone crab starts out as eggs carried under momma's abdomen. She offers great protection until they hatch, at which time they are on their own as planktonic larvae.

As larvae, they drift with the tides and currents and go through a series of molts, becoming more crablike with each molt. After a while the tiny new crab settles down into appropriate habitat and becomes a creeping crawling clawed crusher of clams. (Gotta love alliteration).

In Florida, stone crabs are a high value item that will put a dent in your wallet when you order them off a menu. If you don't mind getting wet, you can gather them yourself...if you don't mind oyster cuts, currents, often murky water, yes....sharks, and really ticked off crabs with bone crushing claws.

Okay, you can just hang a couple of crab traps off the boat and never even get wet, but where's the fun in that? You'll miss out on all that other excitement, but you're still going to have to deal with a ticked off bone crusher... if you're lucky.

When snorkeling for crabs, you prowl around the rocks trying to find a grabbable that isn't tucked way back in his hidey-hole. Then, you grab both claws at the same time. This is really important. If you only grab one claw, and fail to secure the other, you are going to experience what the clam does. It's going to hurt. Alot.

Should you successfully grasp the crab and wrench it from the rocks, you must not relax your control hold or's going to hurt...alot.

Just to keep things rolling, let's say you make it to the surface with a secured crab. You may not kill the crab. If you do, you have broken the law and wasted the crab's life. There's just no meat worth eating in the body, it's the claws that are loaded with tastey meat.

You can only take the claws, so grasping a claw securely, you twist downward and POP! The claw cleanly separates at the joint where it met the body of the crab. The twisting stimulated the crab's survival tactic of self-amputation...pretty handy when an octopus has your leg.

The claw or claws (I like to leave the smaller one) goes in the cooler, the crab goes back to his hide-hole.

The crab will regenerate a new claw through successive molts. The new claw will be small at first, but each molt will reveal a larger claw until finally the claw is full size again. How long this takes depends on habitat conditions, crabs grow faster and molt more often under good conditions.

My wife would eat stone crab over any other seafood if given a choice and I have to agree, they are pretty good.

I racked my brain and tried to think of any other animal that compares to the stone crab...meaning what other animals donate an actual body part (eggs don't count) for us to eat, while still getting to live?

Can you imagine what it would be like if other animals worked this way?

"Honey, I'm in the mood for a rump roast...go out back and twist a leg off the cow"

"Hey, come on over Saturday, we're going to snap the wings off the chickens and fry up some Buffalo wings"

...I don't even want to think about Rocky Mountain Oysters.

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Anonymous said...

Up here in Missouri we have crawdads, or cray fish as my Cajun friend insists, and there's not much meat on them either. (If you don't know what they look like, picture a miniature lobster -- 3 to 5 inches long -- and brown rather than red. My friend says the very best part of the crawdad is the brain, and the only way to get to it properly is to suck it out. Well, there goes my appetite.


roger said...

out here on the left coast we have red rock crabs. i have caught them the lazy way (crab trap) in santa cruz. the claws look similar. we just cooked up the whole thing. i haven't tried crabbing up here on the olympic peninsula yet (still happy as a clammer) but i see the regs allow taking 6 of either sex per day. most people, here or in santa cruz, seem to prefer dungeness crabs. i have seen only dead dungeness crabs on the beach.

swamp4me said...

Ah, but those Mountain Oysters are the most expendable of the parts you mentioned... ;)

Floridacracker said...

People who suck the heads of crawfish think they are sucking brain, but mainly they are getting the whole internal organ package. The "tail" (abdomen) is muscle with intestine running through it. The "head" (cephalothorax) is where all other organs are located.
Either way...ick! I'll stick to the meaty tail.

It is an unusual fishery...even the commercial guys and gals have to let the living crab go.

Ouch! Of course, any married guy can relate...

Hick said...

Ha! I laughed out loud at your commentary. I think crab is my favorite seafood, followed closely by scallops.

My question is: Do all edible crabs have snap-off-grow-back claws, or just the rock crabs? It seems to me that renewable crab legs would be the way to go, although probably more expensive to harvest.

To answer your question of what other animal donates an actual body part for "us" to eat. I can't believe you forgot about the humble lizard. They gladly donate their tails to any cat who happens their way. I've never tried a lizard tail, but my cats seem to like them. Maybe if I fried it? Fricasseed?


thingfish23 said...

I've had gator tail, but I dare-say that the gator didn't just "drop it" at the first sign of trouble...

Floridacracker said...

I'm picturing the seafloor covered with legless crabs, helpless to find food or hide from predators. It's not a pretty sight.
Yes, self amputation (autotomy) is a crustacean trait.
Lizard tail...mmmmmmmmm!

So what did you think of it? To me, it tastes like fishy chicken. Not my favorite.

thingfish23 said...

Gator-tail is interesting from a novelty standpoint. To say that it simply "tastes like chicken" proves you've never tried it (as you mention above). For wild game, I'll take deer or hog any day the sun shines. Squirrel isn't bad, either. I tried it when I lived in New Orleans and was surprised at how tasty it was. I've yet to try wild turkey, but you sure wouldn't have to twist my arm.

I figure maybe gator-meat is sort of "loud" in flavor because of the animals' diet. I don't know what they feed gators in the farms (which, I guess, is where the meat comes from). In the wild, though, I always thought they had a preference for things that are kind of rotten (because the meat tears up and comes apart easier).

Maybe you could expound on this point a little some other time, FC.

Floridacracker said...