Buffer

Useful things you need to know about lobsters

History

European lobster varieties are rarer and more expensive than their American clawed counterparts. The best European variety is the royal blue lobster of the Audresselles in France. It was most often appreciated by the royals and aristocrats of France and the Netherlands. Scenes of such families eating the clawed shellfish were depicted in 16th and 17th century Dutch paintings. If this seafood is to be boiled or steamed, it is then often placed into the pot while still alive. If it is to be grilled, fried or baked then it is wise not to boil it beforehand. When boiling a lobster a general rule of thumb is 5 minutes for the first pound and 3 for each additional pound.

Eating this shellfish can be time consuming for the inexperienced and shy because of its hard shell, which can warrant the use of a number of implements including a nutcracker, tiny fork and plastic bib. An experienced diner may eat the lobster entirely by hand. If the chef has not done so already in the kitchen, the tail and claws can be cracked open by hand. To open the tail one must first squeeze the sides of the shell inward, then placing the thumbs on the dorsal side and pulling out on the edges of the shell. The claws can be opened by pulling the ‘thumb’ out and back, then using a fork to crack open the larger ‘finger’.

Useful things you need to know about lobsters

Gastronomy

As a rule, this crustacean is to be eaten as fresh as possible. For this reason, many restaurants and fish markets keep them alive in tanks, where the customer can then select the animals to be cooked or purchase it alive. The American varieties are kept with their claws banded shut in order to prevent them harming the other lobster in their tank or those who handle them. If kept in such a manner for too long, the muscle inside the claw will begin to shrink and atrophy, decreasing the available meat. Lobster was not popular in North America until the 20th century. Prior to that it was considered a poor food and was sometimes used as a fertilizer by Canadian farmers in the Maritime Provinces.

Outside the rural ports this crustacean was sold canned and therefore lost much of its flavor, which can be disguised if it is dipped in drawn butter. Lobster was brought into the gourmand’s good graces by advancements in transportation technology which allowed for the shipment of live shellfish. It quickly became a luxury food and a source of tourist dollars for the Maritimes and Maine. It is also widely exported to Europe and Japan, where it fetches an especially high price. The majority of the meat is to be found in the tail and claws (in the case of the American varieties) and then tidbits in the torso and legs. The larger this crustacean gets, the more meat can be found in the torso and legs. Lobster can be consumed whole, boiled, baked, grilled etc. or its meat can be used to make bisque or rolls etc.

Biology

‘Lobster’, as far as species names go, is a very loose term. It can refer to a wide range of only marginally related crustaceans. North Americans tend to use it to refer to the clawed lobster (genus Homarus for example) while in South America and Europe it often refers to the spiny lobster. Clawed lobsters are more closely related to the crayfish than most other types. They are arthropods, which means that they are protected by a hard exoskeleton that they must shed in order to grow (much like a snake sheds its skin). They live singly and tend to occupy rocky crevices or burrows. They inhabit a wide range of marine environments on rocky, sandy or muddy bottoms and anywhere from close to shore to beyond the continental shelf. Their head and thorax are fused and covered by a large carapace. Because they often live in dark, murky waters, their protruding eyes do not provide much in the way of vision. They are instead equipped with large antennae with which they feel their way around their environment.

Their tail is covered by segmented armor made of chitin, just as the carapace is. When not in danger they walk slowly along the sea bottom, when a threat appears they propel themselves backwards with their tails at speeds of up to 5 meters per second. These crustaceans were thought to be primarily scavengers until recent studies showed that they actively forage for algae and eelgrass, dig for clams and sea urchins and eat live fish. They grow continuously throughout their lifetime, which can span up to 100 years. According to the Guiness Book of World Records, the largest lobster ever recorded weighed a shade over 20kg (44+ lbs).