03 Jul Lobster: The Sophisticated Crustacean
a test kitchen dossier
A woman should never be seen eating or drinking, unless it be a lobster salad and Champagne, the only true feminine and becoming viands.
— Lord Byron (1778-1824)
Proper Name: Homarus Americanus, belonging to the Homaridae family
Etymology: From the old English word loppestre, which is a corruption of the Latinate word locusta by the old English word for spider, loppe.
Area of Origin: Oceans from around the world, but most famously the Atlantic
Lobsters, the red, cheery, iconic symbols of New England, are actually rather international in nature. There are several varieties of lobster, including a smaller European incarnation and a Japanese one; however, all types of lobsters have the same basic body, which consists of two symmetrical, powerful claws (where many times the best meat is found), an abdomen, head and thorax, both of which are covered by the carapace (shell). A lobster’s vision is generally quite poor, thus it uses its antennas as sensors. Besides these sensors, the entire interior of a lobster is edible, including the stomach for the intrepid for the gastronomic connoisseur.
In previous centuries, lobsters were the sustenance of the poor. We may find this hard to believe now, in our luxurious $26-lobster-eating contemporary times, but until the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, lobsters were deemed a nuisance and used as fertilizer and bait for fish. They were so abundant in New England that they covered New England beaches at low tide. In Europe however, lobsters were always thought of as a delicacy and were routinely immortalized in Seventeenth Century Dutch still-lifes.
By the middle of the Nineteenth Century, New England started to capitalize on the abundance of lobster in the area by canning the excess and selling it. By the Twentieth Century, with the advent of more sophisticated transportation techniques, there started to be a demand for live lobster, which was shipped to Europe at astronomical costs, thus making lobster a luxury food staple. Unfortunately as the demand for lobster increased, it became over-fished and exploited; it was only with the advent of recent conservation efforts that lobsters became more populous.
Varieties of Lobster
By far the most popular and desired variety of lobster is the Maine lobster, which features sweet succulent meat and a subtle flavor. These lobsters are becoming rather rare and expensive as the area becomes rapidly over-fished, and due to this scarcity, restaurants often mislead customers by listing Maine lobster on the menu when they are actually serving lobster fished from off the coast of Canada (be sure to ask!). In response to this growing problem, Maine fishermen are starting to tag their lobsters as a certification of their authenticity.
There are certainly other species of lobsters, most notably the European variety, which is very similar to the American version. The European lobster is found in the Atlantic from Norway to Morocco, as well as in the Mediterranean. Though on average these are slightly smaller than their American counterparts, they are thought by experts to have a finer and more delicate flavor and texture.
Another variety is the Norway lobster, which is a pinkish-orange color and rather attractive. The tail of the Norway lobster is popular due to its tender muscular flesh; it is sometimes served with chips in the upscale pubs of the UK, but is highly esteemed as a delicacy in many parts of Europe and is often called “scampi.”
Storing and Cooking Lobster
Storing lobsters is not very difficult when they are frozen, but as one could imagine, they are much more complicated to accommodate when they are alive. Live lobsters should be stored in open containers in the refrigerator (claws clamped with thick rubber bands), provided they are kept moist with seaweed, or seawater dampened towels or newspaper. Do not immerse lobsters in water or place on ice in an airtight container, as they will suffocate and die. Live lobsters can live up to 48 hours after you’ve purchased them provided they are kept cold and their gills are kept moist, as described above. (Source: Maine Lobster Promotional Council)
Though it is still unclear whether lobsters feel pain when they are boiled (Norwegians say yes, Scots say no), boiling remains the tried and true method of eating and savoring lobster. However lobster is very versatile and can actually used as a base for casseroles, soups and pretty much anything one can think of. See our Test Kitchen Note, How to Cook a Lobster, for detailed instructions.
Lobsters are particularly excellent when served boiled with drawn butter, which is the traditional New England method and a fail-safe one. One can also serve a lobster stuffed and baked with other seafood, such as crabmeat, which is often a nice match. Lobster can also be shown to its best advantage with the addition of cream, which dishes like Lobster Newburg and lobster bisque showcase well. Of course, a classic French pairing is that of vanilla, our Indulgence for this month.
Though we admire lobster’s unique ability to be show-stopping all by itself, here at the Gilded Fork we like to mix things up a bit. This month we are featuring an international approach to lobster consumption, from lobster arepas to lobster bisque shooters — dishes bound to showcase the versatility of this excellent and sophisticated crustacean.
Lobster Bisque Shooters
Asparagus Risotto with Truffled Lobster
Lobster Ravioli in Vanilla Butter Sauce
Lobster, Mango and Jicama Summer Rolls
Mixed Seafood in Ginger Broth with Confetti Vegetables
Rosemary Lobster Fricassé with Baby Vegetables
Dossier by Rebecca Harrington