Lobsters have a colorful history from plentiful and shunned to a gourmet staple for the most discerning palates. How lobster is brought to market determines the experience with only day boat fished lobsters shipped directly to your door delivering the promised delightful crisp taste and firm sweet meat. The lobster is a treat either simply steamed or boiled and enjoyed with drawn butter or as the basis of creations from rolls and bisque to pastas.
When the first settlers arrived in North America there were so many lobsters they would wash ashore and pile up two feet deep. They were considered “poor man’s protein.” Native Americans used lobsters for fertilizer and fish bait. Lobster were so inexpensive they were fed to prisoners, apprentices, slaves and children during colonial times. These people became tired of being fed lobster! In the 19th century, when consumers could buy Boston baked beans for 53 cents a pound, canned lobster sold for just 11 cents a pound. People fed lobster to their cats.
Lobster began to shed some of its negative reputation and gain a following among discriminating diners, particularly in Boston and New York City, during the 1880s. Prices immediately began to rise. Prices took a dive again in the Great Depression. The lobster was demoted back to the canneries to provide a cheap source of protein for American military troops. In 1944, soldiers sat in foxholes in France eating lobster. During the war, however, lobster wasn't rationed like other foods. and so people of all classes began to eat it enthusiastically, and discover its deliciousness. By the 1950s lobster was firmly established as a delicacy; lobster was something movie stars ate when they went out to dinner.
Though considered a rich and decadent food, lobster meat contains fewer calories than an equal portion of skinless chicken breast. It also boasts healthy omega-3 fatty acids, potassium and the vitamins E, B-12 and B-6.
Lobster traps are filled with dead herring bait. Lobsters love these oily, smelly fish, which are caught in the billions with a massive underwater net. Lobstermen pull up their traps and measure whatever lobsters are inside using a brass-colored lobster gauge. "Keepers" must measure three and one quarter inches from their eyes (literally: the hook of the gauge is snagged into the eye socket) to the edge of the solid carapace, before the segmented tail.
Breeding females (or "berried hens") must be tossed back, too: According to law, lobsermen must cut a V-shaped notch in the tail of any female dotted with eggs, so that subsequent lobstermen know to throw her back for life. But this rule means that breeding females will continue to grow enormously large, so Maine also has a maximum-size law: Males over five inches must also be thrown back, to preserve giant mates for these giant females.
The largest lobster ever caught weighed 44 pounds, and others are known to be over 100 years old. Lobsters, unless they die in another way, never age and can continue to grow indefinitely. Their claws can re-grow if mangled in a fight and they are known to be cannibalistic.
Lobster Storage Before You Purchase
Where and how lobsters are stored can really determine the quality of lobster that you eat. "Fresh caught" lobsters, (versus "wild caught" which all lobsters are as there is no lobster farming) are recently harvested rather than caught and stored in tanks or lobster pounds (a "fenced" off section of a shallow body of water to store live, previously caught lobsters). Lobster pounds are used to buy lobsters when they are cheap, and sell them when prices rise after the summer season is over. The problem with the lobster pounds is that numerous lobsters live in a small space for months at a time. They are fed scraps, and often times eat the dead lobsters in the pound. These lobsters can catch shell disease and antibiotics are required to stop the spread to the other lobsters in the pound.
To prevent lobsters from eating each other and spreading shell disease, people are now storing lobsters in tubes - a "tubed lobster". This wild creature is basically confined to a cell for the rest of its existence and doesn't use its muscles or appendages at all. Since it is difficult to feed lobsters in tubes, they typically start to lose muscle mass and their shell becomes leather-like because it is malnourished and can't shed.
Although you may be able to choose a live lobster from a tank, there is no way of knowing how fresh it is unless you ask, and even then, be wary. Lobsters can be held in tanks for two to three weeks, growing weaker and less desirable within the cramped living space.
Soft vs Hard Shells
Many people proclaim that soft-shell lobsters (also known as shedders) are sweeter and more tender—not to mention easier to crack into—than hard-shell lobsters. Others find that hard shell lobsters have a more intensely briny "lobster-y" flavor. They will certainly cost more per pound of actual meat, as much of their weight is due to excess water in their roomy shells.
Male vs Female
Taste-wise, there’s no difference between guys and gals—except when you consider the female lobster’s roe, if indeed it’s present. Unsurprisingly, it tastes salty and…lobstery…and is a delicacy to some and an automatic discard to others. It is greenish/black when raw (so don’t be alarmed if you find some in your uncooked lobster), and turns red when cooked (hence its nickname, “coral”). The lobster meat itself tastes the same whether from a male or female, though.
Lobster Storage At Home
A lobster needs to be alive, or at the very least just-killed when you cook it, period. All seafood tends to go bad more quickly than their land-based counterparts (this is because the bacteria on seafood are used to operating at icy cold ocean water temperatures), but lobster and other similar shellfish face a different problem: enzymatic breakdown. Lobsters and shrimp digest their prey via enzymes in their upper digestive tract located in their heads. Once killed, the lobsters turn into crustacean zombies, their digestive enzymes eating at their own bodies.
After buying a live lobster, be sure to get it in the refrigerator covered with a damp cloth as soon as possible and cook within 12 to 18 hours. Do not let it sit out at room temperature for more than half an hour and never put a live lobster in fresh water for storage purposes.
Cooked lobster should be refrigerated and consumed within two days.
Whole cooked lobster may be easily frozen. Place it in a plastic bag, squeeze out as much of the air as possible and seal tightly.
However, it is preferable to freeze cooked lobster outside the shell in a brine bath. Prepare a brine made of 1 tablespoon of salt to 1 cup of water. Remove the meat from the shell and place in a container or seal-able bag with brine to cover and freeze.
Frozen lobster should be eaten within one month.
Boiling a Maine lobster is the easiest way to cook and serve a whole lobster and a boiled lobster is easier to pick clean. But steaming a lobster often yields the best results for eating, say many. Steaming a lobster is also more forgiving on the chef since it is harder to overcook a lobster in a steam pot. The debate continues.
Simple Steamed Lobster
- 2 tablespoon kosher salt
- 4 (1-1/2-pound) whole live lobsters
- Melted butter, for serving
- Fill a large pot with 2 inches of water and stir in the salt. Add a steamer rack to the pot. (If you don’t have a steamer rack, lightly bunch a long piece of foil so that it looks like a rope. Then make a figure eight out of the foil rope and set it in the pot.)
- Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Add the lobsters head-first to the pot, cover with a tight fitting lid, and return the water to a full boil. Reduce the heat and cook at a gentle boil until the lobster is bright red, about 14 minutes from the time it goes into the pot. Check its doneness by pulling on an antenna: If the antenna comes out with no resistance, the lobster is done.
- Serve the lobster with melted butter.
Simple Boiled Lobster
- 2 or 3 tablespoons salt
- 4 live lobsters (about 1 1/2 pounds each)
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
- Lemon wedges
- Fill a large stockpot about half full of water. Add the salt and bring to a boil. When the water has come to a rolling boil, plunge the lobsters headfirst into the pot. Clamp the lid back on tightly and return the water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook the lobsters for 12 to 18 minutes (hard-shell lobsters will take the longer time), until the shells turn bright red and the tail meat is firm and opaque when checked.
- Lift the lobsters out of the water with tongs and drain in a colander. Place underside up on a work surface and, grasping firmly, split the tails lengthwise with a large knife. Drain off the excess liquid. Serve with melted butter and lemon wedges.
One Pot Clambake
- 1 750 milliliters bottle dry white wine
- 2 1/2 pounds small new potatoes, about 1 inch in diameter
- 8 live lobsters, about 1 1/4 pounds each
- 8 large eggs
- 8 ears of corn, husked, halved
- 4 celery stalks, cut diagonally into 1/2 inch pieces
- 1 1/2 pounds spicy smoked andouille sausage from To-Table
- 2 lemons, quartered, sliced
- 1 orange, quartered, sliced
- 1 head of garlic, cloves separated
- 1 large bunch thyme
- 4 pounds steamer clams, scrubbed
- 1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, melted
- You'll need a 30-quart pot
- Place a steamer pot in 30-quart pot. Add wine and 12 cups water; cover and bring to a boil. Add potatoes; cover and cook 5 minutes. Add lobsters and eggs; cover and cook 10 minutes. Gently nestle corn and next 6 ingredients in pot. Cover and cook 5 minutes. Add steamers, cover, and cook about 10-15 minutes until shellfish open, (discard any that do not open). Peel 1 egg and cut in half. If it's hard-boiled, lobsters are ready.
- Using a slotted spoon and tongs, transfer clambake to a very large platter or a table covered with newspaper. Pour broth from pot into small bowls, leaving any sediment behind. Serve clambake with broth and melted butter.
Ingredients (makes 8-12 Servings)
4 1.25-pound live lobsters
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 onion, sliced
2 large celery stalk, sliced
2 small carrot, sliced
2 garlic head, cut in half crosswise
2 tomato, sliced
4 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
4 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
4 bay leaves
16 whole black peppercorns
1 cup Brandy
1 cup dry Sherry
8 cups fish stock or bottled clam juice
1/2 cup tomato paste
1 cup whipping cream
4 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoon water
- Bring large pot of water to boil. Add lobsters head first and boil until cooked through, about 8 minutes. Using tongs, transfer lobsters to large bowl. Reserve 4 cups cooking liquid. Cool lobsters.
- Working over large bowl to catch juices, cut off lobster tails and claws. Crack tail and claw shells and remove lobster meat. Coarsely chop lobster meat; cover and chill. Coarsely chop lobster shells and bodies; transfer to medium bowl. Reserve juices from lobster in large bowl.
- Heat olive oil in heavy large pot over high heat. Add lobster shells and bodies and sauté until shells begin to brown, about 8 minutes. Add onion and next 8 ingredients. Mix in brandy and Sherry. Boil until almost all liquid has evaporated, about 4 minutes. Add fish stock, reserved 4 cups lobster cooking liquid and lobster juices. Simmer 1 hour.
- Strain soup through sieve set over large saucepan, pressing firmly on solids. Whisk tomato paste into soup. Simmer until soup is reduced to 6 cups, about 15 minutes. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
- Add cream to soup and simmer 5 minutes. Dissolve cornstarch in 1 tablespoon water. Add to soup and boil until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Mix lobster meat into soup and stir to heat through. Ladle soup into bowls.
Lobster with Tagliatelle and Cream Sauce
- 3 1 3/4-pound live lobsters
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 2 large plum tomatoes, chopped
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced
- 2 fresh tarragon sprigs
- 2 fresh thyme sprigs
- 2 fresh Italian parsley sprigs
- 6 cups whipping cream
- 1 1/2 pounds fettuccine or linguine
- Bring very large pot of salted water to boil. Add lobsters. Boil until cooked through, about 12 minutes (or cook in batches, if necessary). Using tongs, transfer lobsters to large rimmed baking sheet. Remove meat from tail and claws; place meat in medium bowl. Remove any roe from bodies and place in small bowl. Cover and chill meat and roe (if any). Remove tomalley (green matter) from bodies and discard. Reserve bodies and shells.
- Heat oil in heavy large pot over high heat. Add reserved lobster bodies and shells. Sauté 3 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Add tomato paste; stir 3 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, wine, vinegar, garlic, tarragon, thyme, and parsley. Add cream; boil 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer just until lobster flavor infuses cream, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Strain sauce into large bowl, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard contents of strainer. (Lobster and sauce can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover separately and chill.)
- Transfer sauce to heavy large saucepan. Cut lobster meat into bite-size pieces; coarsely crumble roe, if using. Add to sauce. Gently rewarm over low heat, stirring occasionally.
- Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain; return pasta to pot. Add sauce; toss over medium-high heat until sauce coats pasta, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to large shallow bowl and serve.
Lobster Rolls Cold (New England Style)
from: The Food Lab - Serious Eats J. Ken Lopez-Alt June 24 2011
- 4 lobster, about 1 1/2 pounds each
- 2 to 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup finely diced celery stalks
- 2 tablespoons finely minced chives (optional)
- lemon juice (optional)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 8 Top-split hot dog buns (preferably Pepperidge Farms)
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Meanwhile, kill each lobster by pressing the tip of a heavy chef's knife in the crack just behind the eyes in the center of the carapace. Press down firmly, then split head in half. Using kitchen towels, twist off tail and claws (including knuckles) from carapace. Save carapace for another use. Press each tail flat against the cutting board and insert wooden skewers along their entire length to keep them straight.
Set a wire rack in a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet. Place a steamer insert in the bottom of a large lidded stock pot and add 1-inch of water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add a single layer of lobster claws and tails (about half the lobster) and cover pot. Let steam for exactly two minutes, then transfer to rack set in baking sheet (lobsters may still be twitching slightly—this is a reflex reaction. Don't worry, they are dead). Repeat with remaining lobster.
Transfer to oven and roast until claws reach 135°F in the center as measured on an instant-read thermometer, about 7 minutes. Remove claws and set aside on large plate. Continue roasting until tails reach 135°F in center, 7 to 15 minutes longer (depending on exact shape of tails). Remove from oven and transfer to plate with claws.
As soon as lobster is cool enough to handle, remove meat from shell using kitchen shears, lobster crackers, and/or the back of a heavy cleaver to help crack the shells (It's ok if the meat gets a little mangled).
Cut meat into 1/2 to 1-inch bite sized pieces and transfer to a large bowl. Add mayonnaise and toss well to coat. Transfer to wire mesh strainer or large colander set in a bowl. Place in refrigerator and allow to drain and cool for at least 1 hour.
Discard any drippings (or save to eat with bread). Toss lobster with celery and chives (if using). Season to taste with lemon juice (if using), salt, and pepper. Set aside.
Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large, heavy bottomed skillet over medium-low heat. Swirl to coat pan. Add four buns with one cut side down. Cook, pressing on buns gently and moving them around the pan until golden brown on first side. Remove from pan, add another tablespoon of butter, and toast second side. Repeat with second batch of buns. Divide filling evenly among all the buns and serve immediately.
Lobster Rolls Warm (Connecticut Style)
from: The Food Lab - Serious Eats J. Ken Lopez-Alt June 24 2011
- 4 lobster, about 1 1/2 pounds each
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
- 8 top-split hot dog buns, preferably Pepperidge Farm brand
- 1/4 cup finely sliced scallion greens or chives
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Kill each lobster by pressing the tip of a heavy chef's knife in the crack just behind the eyes in the center of the carapace. Press down firmly, then split head in half. Using kitchen towels, twist off tail and claws (including knuckles) from carapace. Save carapace for another use. Press each tail flat against the cutting board and insert wooden skewers along their entire length to keep them straight.
Place a steamer insert in the bottom of a large lidded stock pot and add 1-inch of water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add a single layer of lobster claws and legs (about half the lobster) and cover pot. Let steam for exactly two minutes. Transfer lobsters to sink and set under running cold water. Return liquid to a boil and repeat with remaining lobster tails and claws.
As soon as lobster is cool enough to handle, remove meat from shell using kitchen shears, lobster crackers, and/or the back of a heavy cleaver to help crack the shells (It's OK if the meat gets a little mangled). Roughly chop into bite-sized pieces and set on double layer of paper towels to drain.
Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a heavy bottomed 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Swirl to coat pan. Add four buns with one cut side down. Cook, pressing on buns gently and moving them around the pan until golden brown on first side. Remove from pan, add another tablespoon of butter, and toast second side. Repeat with second batch of buns.
Melt remaining butter in skillet over medium heat. As soon as butter is melted, add lobster meat. Cook, tossing constantly and using a spoon to gently fold meat and butter over itself int he skillet until lobster is mostly opaque (butter should not sizzle), about 3 minutes. Add scallion greens and continue to cook until lobster is cooked through, about 1 minute longer. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Divide lobster filling evenly between rolls. Spoon excess juices over each roll. Serve immediately.
Place lobster in medium bowl. Blend mayonnaise, lemon juice, chives and pepper; spoon over lobster and gently toss to coat. Chill until ready to serve.
Remove crusts from bread, if desired. Butter both sides of bread and toast on a griddle until golden brown and crispy. Top with lobster salad and cut into serving pieces. Garnish as desired.