I love Thanksgiving. Big shock from a person who has centered her life around food, right? I love seeing my big crazy family. I love adding wine to a pan sauce, then pouring some into my glass. I love listening to my sister's misadventures in dating and my mom's stories about way back when. I love pie and believe stuffing is the best food ever made.
But what I don't love is turkey. And if I don't love it, it's not touching my table. So I've created a new tradition. In lieu of turkey, I serve chilled stone crabs with mustard sauce—a true celebration of Florida.
After I went to culinary school, my mom swore off the kitchen. "I sent you to school; you can cook," she said. That was the last we saw her sweating over the stove.
For five years, I dabbled with the bird. Armed with a fresh food perspective and armloads of recipes, I toiled in the kitchen. I dry-brined, wet-brined, spatchcocked and fried. I roasted and smoked and even deboned. But every year resulted in a dry turkey, flavorless and dull. Sure, some years were better than others, and for a turkey fan, my results were probably fine. I'm not, though. I needed more.
Then, in a chance encounter one early November at my mother's home, I met a fisherman's son. He was working for the cable company, and—as I have been trained—I got him a glass of lemonade and chatted with him while he worked. Mom always said, "Treat people like people," and it stuck. Thank goodness, because while we were talking, he told me about his family's business: harvesting stone crabs.
Any native Floridian knows that having a stone crab fisherman in your circle is a helluva get. Private fishermen often offer their catch at a discount when compared to the grocery store. I've already put in my order for this Thanksgiving, and this year we saved $12 per pound, although I'm sure we will spend those savings at Publix on the rest of the meal, thanks to inflation.
Meeting the fisherman's son sparked an idea to trash the turkey and try something new. I proposed serving stone crabs instead to my family but was met with pushback in the name of tradition. We compromised with a smaller bird supplemented with a heaping plate of claws. At the end of our meal, the turkey stood almost untouched as we washed the crabs' juices off our hands and settled on the lanai with small glasses of port.
The following year, we knew what we had to do. I called our guy to order the stone crabs, our new centerpiece. My mom, ever the worrier, made a small ham just in case. In between transferring the food to the dining room table, our dog ate the ham. The whole thing.
We laughed and cracked our crabs, my mom inspecting each discarded shell to be sure no one had missed a meaty morsel. And in that moment, we also cracked open a new Thanksgiving tradition.