Learn everything you need to know about the king of the sea with our Lobster 101 Guide. Our introduction to lobster begins with a quick review of the history of lobster in Maine, types of lobsters, grades of lobster, times of year it is caught, and lobster colors, and of course, lobster cooking.
A Brief History of Lobster in Maine
Lobsters have been harvested commercially since the mid 1800’s. Before this time, it is clear that lobsters were plentiful and bigger in size and lived much longer than they do today. Magellan’s journals notes that these “creatures” were as thick as “molasses” in some parts of coastal water explored in the old Massachusetts territory, which is now known as Maine.
The fishing industry in Maine is second only to timber (per capita). Whereas most pulp and paper activity is controlled by large corporations, the lobster industry is primarily still family run. This heritage and way of life is to this day passed down from generation to generation.. Although a few new technological additions have been added to the mix, little has changed in this culture since lobsters were first commercially harvested since the id 1800’s
It was the New Yorkers and Bostonians that really gave the Maine lobster its place on the culinary map, after they developed a taste of its delicious sweet and succulent meat. Lobsters nowadays are somewhat synonymous with exclusive restaurants and expensive buffets. We imagine them nestled amongst leafy green salads, drizzled with butter sauces, displayed on pure white porcelain and handled with gold cutlery. Lobster throughout history has been prized as a delicacy, especially throughout Western Europe, as their history stretches from Roman banquet halls to feasts thrown by Tudor monarchs. But lobster is too delicious to leave solely to these precious reserves.
Maine lobster, also known as the American Lobster, is found in the waters between Eastern Canada and North Carolina, with Maine contributing to more than half of all lobsters caught in the United States.
Types of Lobster
For the most part there are two main types of lobster, cold water and warm water. First up is the warm water lobster, which is commonly caught off the coast of Asia, the Caribbean, Florida, California and the Mediterranean. Warm water lobsters have a fishier taste, often with a softer mushier texture, which means they are often difficult to handle. Cold water lobster is commonly caught off the coast of New Zealand, south Africa, Australia, and of course Maine. These lobsters are firmer sweeter and more succulent, with whiter meat. They are transported frozen to many warm water areas because you just can’t compete with the taste. Don’t compromise – always pick cold water Maine lobster. You’ll never be disappointed.
Maine lobster is easily distinguished from the “spiny” lobster (commonly called rock lobster) caught along the southern Atlantic coast and the coast of California by its large heavy claws. The spiny lobster has tiny claws and is usually marketed as uncooked frozen tails. Because of its sweet, delicious flavor and tender texture Maine lobster is the world’s most prized catch.
Live Maine lobster is available year-round, with the bulk of the catch harvested in the summer and fall. In the winter months many lobstermen pull their traps to avoid damage and danger of Nor’easters and other storms. The price of lobster, like most prices, is ruled by supply and demand, as well as, the weather. Lobster prices usually rise at the start of Memorial Day and drop as the season ends with Labor Day weekend. May and September are good times to buy hard-shell lobsters. In June and July, when lobster molting is at its peak, the majority of lobsters sold locally are soft-shell. Learn more about the best time to buy lobsters.
Hard Shell Lobsters
Lobsters grow by molting, or shedding their shells. Just after they molt, they are soft and fragile until their new shell has hardened. (It takes about 25 molts over 5-7 years for a lobster to grow to a minimum legal size, 1 pound.) Newly molted lobsters are called soft-shell or “new shell” lobsters. It is important to be aware of the quality and price of soft-shell lobsters. Soft-Shell lobsters have less meat in proportion to total body weight than hard-shell lobsters. Hard-shell meat is firmer, while soft-shell meat is softer and tends to have more water. Because soft-shell lobsters are not as strong as hard-shells, they do not ship well. This is why soft-shell lobster is always less expensive. Cracking a hard-shell Maine lobster takes some effort, but the results are more than worth it. Learn more about how to buy hard shell lobsters.
Lobsters are caught in traps, marked by colorful buoys to identify the traps’ owners. If you happen to be out on a boat and come across one, don’t even think about pulling it up to take a look. There is no real authority specifically governing lobster traps, unless you count Smith & Wesson, and the notoriously short-tempered lobstermen, themselves.
When the lobsters are taken from the trap, they are “banded” with strong rubber bands. Sometimes you might see wooden plugs inserted into the base of the claw. Do not remove the bands or plugs…they are there for your safety!!!
The State of Maine has very strict laws governing lobstering. Lobster traps may not be hauled at night and on Sundays during June through August in Maine waters (since 1967). In Maine it is illegal to keep lobsters under and over a certain size. Lobstermen use a special gauge to accurately measure the length of the lobster’s carapace (body)–from the eye socket to the beginning of the tail to ensure legal compliance.
Minimum sizes are enforced to make sure that lobsters are mature enough to breed at least once before they are harvested. When a female egg-bearing lobster is found, it is required by Maine law that a v-shaped notch be placed in the right tail flipper before releasing the lobster, in order to protect her so that she may continue to reproduce.
The maximum legal length of a lobster is 5 inches carapace-length; which are called “jumbos”. The maximum size limit is regulated to protect the breeding stock. A minimum size lobster will weigh around 1 pound, while a maximum size lobster will weigh between 3-4 pounds. The most plentiful and most popular size of Maine Lobster is between 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 pounds each.
More Maine Lobster 101
Contrary to popular belief, live lobsters are not red in color, but are actually a dark blue-green color because of the many different color pigments. When cooked, all of the pigments except for the red (astaxantbin) are hidden. Besides the typical colored lobsters, there are also rare yellow, red, blue and white specimens. About 1 in every 30 million lobsters is born with a blue shell. Lobsters are usually active at night and eat fish, crabs, clams, mussels, sea urchins and sometimes-other lobsters!
Maine lobster is not only great tasting, it’s healthy – that is, if you go easy on the butter. It’s hard to believe, but Maine Lobster has less cholesterol, calories, and saturated fats than lean beef, skinless chicken and pork. Lobster is a good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which are proven to reduce hardening of the arteries and risk of heart disease. Lobster is also high in amino acids, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, iron, vitamin A, and many of the B vitamins. Read more about lobster health facts.
Live lobster can be boiled, steamed, grilled, or baked. The white meat of the Maine lobster is located in the tail, claws, and knuckles. Meat can also be found in parts of the body and legs. The red material in the tail section is the coral “roe” or the female eggs and is considered a delicacy. The greenish material at the junction of the body and tail is “tomalley”, which is actually the liver, and has a very unique “peppery” taste used in many recipes.
Don’t worry about cooking live lobsters. Lobsters have a ganglionic nervous system (as opposed to a central nervous system), so they do not feel “pain” the same way that we do.
Cooking a lobster longer than the recommended times usually makes the meat too tough. When properly cooked, lobster meat is a creamy white, shells are bright red and the two front antennae pull out easily. A 1-2 pound whole lobster serves one person. A pound of meat can be removed from four to six lobsters weighing 1.25 pounds (typical market size). Approximately two cups of lobster meat equals one pound.
Though Maine lobster is best enjoyed “in the rough” (cooked whole in the shell), it lends itself to a variety of recipes and styles. Celebrate, anytime of year, anywhere in the country, with the finest live Maine Lobster from LobsterAnywhere.com.