How do you choose which lobster to buy? Thanks to the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, I recently had that puzzling question answered.
Lobsters can be divided into “hard shell” and “new shell,” which I learned while tasting both types side by side at Pink Magnolia, the popular new American restaurant in Dallas’ historic Oak Cliff district. The new shell lobsters are distinctly sweeter, less chewy, and have a salient brininess that makes them taste delectable. Their appearance is similar except that the new shells have smoother shells that may be visibly thinner.
Both types of lobster are caught the same way: line-caught in traps. The owner of the boat must be onboard during the catch and each boat is limited to 800 traps. Specimens with bodies less than 3 1/4 inches in length are returned to the water (they’re too young) as are specimens longer than 5 inches (ideal breeding animals). Females with eggs are marked (so that they can be recognized as bearing females if they are caught again after they have released their eggs) and returned. These and other conservation measures, nearly unanimously backed by the lobster industry, have greatly increased lobster stocks. In 1990, 20,000 tons of lobster were harvested from the waters off Maine. Now, the catch runs at 130,000 tons per year.
If you are landlocked (like I am in Dallas) or distant (like our West Coast peers) how — and how quickly — does Maine lobster get to you? The answer (for those of us whose G650s are in the shop) is Federal Express from Boston’s Logan airport. Lobster harvested before dawn on a Friday and packed on ice can be at your door by 10:30 a.m. on Saturday. In practice, the service does not even have to be quite that quick to avoid deterioration.
Who do you buy from? The MLMC has a guide to recommended resellers here and will even highlight those who ship. However, its restaurant guide is based on Yelp and thus likely unreliable. Better to choose a restaurateur you trust. I attended a tasting with mainly chefs, as the MLMC seeks to inform culinary professionals about its product. Representatives are touring the country, also visiting New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.
Now that you have the ideal crustacean, how do you prepare and serve the lobster? There are hundreds of recipes, but one of the lobster fishermen at the event, Frank Gotwals from Stonington, echoed my thoughts when he said, “Just pull out the freshly cooked meat and eat it without anything on it.”