One of my favourite topics – Maine Lobster, the highly prized, truly sweet and succulent, muscular tailed crustacean, without which the sleepy, freezing State of Maine would not be famous. It is probably the staple protein source and a highly profitable commodity supporting a large proportion of the coastal population.
All kids in the State of Maine in Year 10 are given two lobster pots each through a school programme for education purposes. They are expected to fish for lobsters responsibly learning to respect and to understand the local livelihood. Licensing laws on lobster fishing is very strict.
I make my point. Maine lobsters are available throughout the USA, airflown to the other 49 States. New Yorkers will beg to differ and probably support the critters from Connecticut and Rhode Island as being better tasting. Bostonians will claim Massachusetts lobsters are best. The Canadian Maritimes also produce just as good lobsters running along their coastline from New Brunswick south to the border of USA. In days of yore, the humble lobster was seen as poor man’s food and the abundance meant even crops had their share of lobster nitrogen in the form of fertilisers. Servants and employees used to insist that they would only be served lobsters no more than ONCE a week in their employment contracts! To be fair, technically, lobsters all belong to the Homaridae genus and taste of their juicy tails boil down to what they feed on. They are not to be confused with the non clawed (mostly warm water) South East Asian, Australian, Caribbean and Mediterranean spiny lobsters of the Palinuridae family. Scampi, from the lobster family belong to the Metanephrops genus and slipper lobsters are from Scyllaridae family.
Female or Male? Defined by the first swimmerets. The flat appendages of the female (see first picture below) enable the roe (eggs) better aeration as they flap their feathery appendages. The male has hard sharp swimmerets. In the spawning season, female lobsters with eggs by law have to be thrown back into the ocean so it is more likely that males are served at the table.
Then of course there are special lobsters. The one in a million like the little chap below and the one in ten million Lobster eaters!!
My journey begins off the Virgin flight at Boston’s Logan Airport, Hertz car waiting at the dropoff/pickup point. SatNav programmed and its straight onto the Route1 North heading to New Hampshire – Maine border. Within an hour we are in the REAL Lobsterland where potluck lobster stew features in most if not all weekly church gatherings. Chalkboards outside lobster shacks with daily market prices line the local thoroughfares.
Lobsters ARE seasonal. No matter what the Maine-iacs tell you, there are three types of eating lobster graded by the condition of its exoskeleton. The most succulent and sweetest, in my opinion, are the ones that have recently shed their shells. You can tear the shell by hand with ease. These lobsters weigh the least and therefore are prized for the meat to shell ratio. They have fattened up, eating and grown too big for their old exoskeleton. The best season for these are the summer months in the local lobster shacks. Deemed as bad travellers, they rarely make long journeys. When cooked they are the least stressed so the meat is more tender. Then there is the hard shell lobsters that require a bit of work to crack. These autumn lobsters weigh more and can withstand some travel, doomed to the restaurant pots around the USA, they are less desirable and tend to have been out of their natural environment for a few days or even weeks before appearing on tables. The last category are the old shell lobsters. These lobsters have ridiculously hard shell and almost impossible to crack. I once had to send the claws back to the chef to get them cracked and returned as cleaver chopped claws. The meat is limp and salty. These lobsters really should not be eaten but sadly with their old hard shells, they make for easy travel and appear in top restaurants halfway round the world served at exorbitant prices.
The only way to eat a lobster is “au naturel”. Steamed for about 15 minutes (depending on size) served in a metal bowl to collect its juices. The best size is the 1lb -11/2 lb chicken lobster. With a bib and armed with a fork and ironman heat withstanding fingers, rip the head off. Scoop out the umami rich green tomalley (technically the liver) and enjoy this delicacy. If you are lucky, female lobster may have some bright orange coral or roe. The rest is history.
Traditionally, the best lobsters are one eaten at Lobster Shacks. Today the restaurants, shacks and lobster pounds have such good quality lobsters, they can be enjoyed almost everywhere in Maine. The most important look out signs when choosing where you plan to eat lobsters are the aerated tanks and healthy lobsters in view of customers. Prices vary daily but still very affordable. My current recommendations are:
Brunswick, Casco Bay, Orr’s Island, Bailey Island and Harpswell area:
Allen’s Lobster Pound.
A cute little port side business with its lobster boats and warehouse with one of Maine’s few freshwater tanks for keeping clams. Lobster tanks filled with hundreds of healthy lively lobsters.
Cook’s Lobster House
A massive family owned restaurant with it’s own fishing rights and warehouse at the back of the eating area. Whatever size lobster you wish is available, cooked in many different styles. Staff are friendly and service is pretty fast. Sadly range of decent wines was poor but you are there for the lobster not the alcohol!!!
Fabulous scenery and well worth a visit if planning a drive to the Brunswick area.
Freeport: The Lobster Cooker and Grill, The Lobster Cooker and Grill, Harrisakeet Inn and Freeport Seafood Co and Shaws supermarket
The Freeport Seafood Company
And if absolutely desperate for a lobster, just hit the local supermarket where fresh tanks of lobsters are awaiting. Staff will freshly steam and twin pack lobsters with a “To Go” bag complete with bib, napkin and trimmings, all piping hot for you to race back to your hotel room to enjoy!!
Kittery: Tasty lazyman lobster rolls at Bob’s Clam Hut with all the trimmings