It sure was nice while it lasted – a week in warm Miami at the invitation of my brother-in-law Joe and sister-in-law Jan, whose hospitality was as welcoming as the Florida sunshine. Arriving home to New Jersey on the last flight before everything was cancelled for a few days, I was confronted with another 20 inches of snow lining the sides of the driveway and icicles menacing enough to sever an ox.
But I shall focus on the positives – never mind the slippery sidewalks, the frigid temperatures, and the mounds of snow that make putting money in a parking meter downtown a truly uphill climb. Never mind that the furnace broke three hours before I left for the airport. Yes, I’m serious.
Never mind, because a repairman came to my rescue moments before I had to dash out to the airport. Never mind, because the arctic weather allows me to bake bread, to simmer soup, to putter around the house doing things I wouldn’t dream of doing if the weather were warm enough to play outdoors.
Never mind because I am still basking in the glow of my visit to our Southernmost state and the glorious pampering I received from my relatives. Not to mention the bounteous meals I ate in Miami, like the two-for-one lobsters at “Captain’s Tavern” (yes I ate them both):
Since this was Miami, home to a large number of Cubans, I couldn’t leave without eating a meal at a Cuban restaurant. In this case, we went to a well-known Cuban restaurant with the unlikely name of Versailles. Once inside, with its large rooms lined in etched mirrors, anyone who knows anything about the French palace could see how it got its name.
Spanish was the language of choice here that night (I heard it spoken everywhere I went in Miami) and the waiting line outside attested to the restaurant’s popularity. After a 15 minute wait, we started our meal with a pitcher of sangria and a platter of crispy plaintain chips served with a garlic sauce.
I ordered a Cuban sampler called “Criollo” – a platter laden with “ropa vieja” (shredded beef in a tomato sauce,) fried pork, fried plaintains, a croqueta, some yucca, yellow rice, black beans and something else (that small beigy thing to the right of the rice )I didn’t recognize.
I managed to eat only about half of the platter, but the leftovers provided by brother-in-law with lunch for another day. Sadly I was too stuffed after this filling meal to enjoy any of the various flans on the menu or even a cup of Cuban coffee.
My brother-in-law order the oxtail stew. He loved it. Cubans sure do have a lot of starchy and beigy-brown colored food, it seems. But hey, they were packin’ ‘em in, so you can’t argue with success.
For me though, the week’s food highlight was a feast of stone crabs, a Florida delicacy. I’m not sure if you can find them in your area, but I’ve seen stone crabs at my local fish store here in Princeton on occasion. Unlike most crabs, the bodies of stone crabs are rarely eaten. It’s the claws that seafood lovers prize. The meaty claws are plucked off the bodies, which are tossed back into the ocean. Now don’t get all verklempt on me – the bodies grow new limbs, and studies have shown that removing their claws forces Florida stone crabs to eat sea grass. That’s important because it’s been proven to be healthier for them, allowing them to regenerate their claws faster and for the female Florida stone crab to produce more baby stone crabs.
Typically, they’re already cooked when you buy them, and cracked at the store too, which is a good thing, because the shells are as thick and brittle as ceramic tile. Occasionally, you will need to help things along with a metal claw cracker, but in general, you can pick the shells off easily and expose the flesh. They’re eaten cold, and dipped into a sauce that complements the crabs, made of mostly mayonnaise, mustard and some seasonings. The sauce comes already prepared from Norman Brothers, the store where my sister-in-law buys the stone crabs, but my brother-in-law likes to spice it up a little further with more Worcestershire sauce and A-1 sauce. It’s an addictive accompaniment that would be great with any kind of seafood – from lobster to crabs to steamed halibut.
You may not have the luxury of finding stone crabs where you live, but you can surely have the sauce. The recipe below comes from a landmark restaurant in Miami called “Joe’s Stone Crabs.” Actually you can have the crabs too, since Joe’s Stone Crabs will ship its crabs (and key lime pie too) anywhere in the continental U.S. Click here to see the prices for a meal of stone crabs, cole slaw and key lime pie.
We followed up our stone crabs with the traditional dessert of key lime pie. Who am I to buck tradition? I had to do my part – a few times in fact - to help out the key lime pie industry. This one was also bought at Norman Brothers and it was excellent. While I don’t have their recipe, I can send you to this link if this picture has you yearning to bake your own.
Before leaving for the airport, we had to stop at a little hole in the wall called “Carlito’s Cafe.” It’s a stand-up place where you order through the window - a Cuban sandwich or a chicken sandwich (that arrives with potato sticks sprinkled on top) – all for a few bucks each.
But the best part about Carlito’s is the coffee – good, rich, dark Cuban coffee with a thick crema on top – all for just 65 cents.
Stone Crab Claw Sauce
(courtesy of “Joe’s Stone Crabs” restaurant)
- 3 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon A-1 sauce
- 1/8 cup light cream or half and half
- 1/8 tsp. salt
Beat the dry mustard and mayonnaise together for one minute. Add the remaining ingredients and beat until everything has a creamy consistency. Chill. Dip the crab claws into the sauce with your fingers.