Monday, May 17, 2010

Get To Know Your Lobsters

I remember the beginning of my love affair with lobster. My grandmother took me out to a San Francisco restaurant all by myself and said I could order anything I wanted. So I asked for lobster! When the waiter set the blazing orange crustacean before me, I just gaped. The waiter astutely offered discreet help in cracking it open for me. Simple boiled lobster with clarified butter—I was hooked!

Since then I’ve discovered that in addition to the well-known Maine variety, there are other sweet, succulent lobsters to enjoy, be they boiled broiled, sauced, souped, or in salad. Basically they fall into two main types, the clawed lobsters (like those from Maine and thereabouts) and the spiny lobsters.

Two different species of clawed lobsters can be found, the American and the European. While overall size is similar, the European lobsters are usually darker and with smaller claws. Their American cousins are found in the cold waters of the North Atlantic Coast from Newfoundland and allegedly as far south as North Carolina. They head for deeper waters in fall and shallower in spring. Their camouflage greenish black shells turn a characteristic bright orange when boiled.

While they may be called “Maine lobsters” in sea food markets and restaurants, I’ve eaten many caught right of the coast of New Hampshire, where I vacationed for several summers, and Cape Cod folks do the same! You get more meat with the clawed lobsters, which is a plus. You can buy the lobster whole, one-clawed (you’ll have to guess what happened to the second claw), just tail, or just claws.

Scientifically speaking, these are not “true” lobsters, nor even closely related to them, and are called “crayfish” in some countries. These denizens of warmer waters can be identified by their very large antenna, lack of claws, and a harder shell.

The spiny lobsters are found in Caribbean waters and off the coast of California as far north as Santa Barbara, as well as in New Zealand and South Africa. They have gained particular fame as the famous “Australian lobster.” They are the most important food export of the Bahamas. Whole, they weigh about two pounds, and the meat is found just in the tail. Gastronomically speaking, they are delicious and tender!

If you want to buy a whole live lobster in the US, you are likely to find the Maine and California lobsters the most easily available when placing a seafood order. You can buy frozen and fresh lobster tails, often called “Australian,” all year long.
The great thing is that they all work just fine in most any of your favorite lobster recipes, from chowder to lobster Newburg. Bon app├ętit!

1 comment:

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