A Satisfying Guide to All Things Lobster
Anyone who's paid premium prices for a lobster dinner at a fine restaurant might be surprised to find that lobster was once poor man's food. The crustacean, plentiful in the colder waters off the coast of Maine, piled up so high on the shores that Native Americans used it for bait and to fertilize the land. Servants and the poor ate it every day to the point of nausea. It wasn't until lobster began to be shipped inland that eating it became a luxury reserved for only the very rich.
Atlantic or American Lobster is part of the Homarus genus. They are salt-water crustaceans belonging to:
There are over 30 species of clawed lobsters worldwide. Another name for the Atlantic lobster's asymmetrical claws is chelae. The chelae are formed from its first pair of five pairs of legs. The large chelae is used for crushing, the small chelae for taking prey. Lobsters don't swim, they crawl using their swimmerets or pleopods. The last pair of swimmerets form the lobster tail.
Arthropods are invertebrates. This makes the lobster bilateral, meaning that one would be able to cut down the middle, from head to tail, and each half would be equal, mirror images, similar to the human body. Lobsters have two main parts: the celphalothorax, which consists of the head (cephalon) and the mid-body; and, the tail, which is really the belly of the crustacean. The cephalothorax is actually five cephalic and eight thoracic, fused segments, or somites, each with one pair of appendages located laterally or underneath its body. The cephalothorax is covered by the hard shell or carapace. The appendages are the first and second antennae, mandibles, first and second maxillae, first through third maxillipeds, then the five walking legs, or pereiopods.
Lobsters are keen to detect movement by using their compound eyes, situated at the end of movable short stalks on the first segment. Like a fly, the lobster's compound eyes are made up of units--14,000 to be exact. Strangely enough, lobsters cannot see images, only detect dimly-lit motion. They'd be blinded in bright light. The numerous multi-functional mouths are underneath the last three segments of the head and first three thoracic segments of the lobster. The second and third maxillipeds grip food, while the first and second maxillae and the first of the three maxillipeds pass the food to the mandibles or jaws on the fourth cephalothorax segment where the food is crushed and ingested into the body. All other mouths are located on segments five through nine. Located on segments 10 through 14 of the cephalothorax are the pereiopods and the claws. Not all lobsters have claws, such as the spiny lobster, which incidentally is where most of the lobster tails at your supermarket come from.
Most of America's lobsters are caught in the Northern Atlantic waters. Off the coast of Maine using baited traps in waters one to 500 fathoms deep, fishermen can be quiet successful in hauling plentiful pots of these desirable crustaceans. One lobster fisherman may pull up to 2,000 traps. Lobstering can be dangerous business, as feet and hands can get caught in the tangled lines of the trawlers and send a lobsterman plummeting to the ocean bottom.
Only certain types of lobsters may be kept, and they must be measured with a special double-sided gauge. Legal lobsters are 3.25 to five inches measured from the rear of the eye socket to the end of the body shell. It is illegal to mutilate a lobster in order to get inside the designated measurements. Female lobsters carrying children must also be released, although it has been known that some fishermen bleach and scrape off the young in order to keep a good lobster, a travesty that has had activist groups hollering about in injustice. About 15 to 20 percent of legal lobsters are released for being V-notched or carrying lobster caviar. Lobsters are responsible for bringing in about one billion dollars to the world's economy each year. The average market size of today's lobster is one to two pounds. The world record lobster came from Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1977, weighing in at 44 pounds, six ounces, and almost four feet long.
COOKING AND SHOPPING FOR LOBSTER
Choosing a lobster to cook is not rocket science. Choose from a fish market if you can, ask for today's catch, as the freshest lobsters are the best-tasting lobsters. Cook it the same day. The ideal lobster would be a greenish-brown to black specimen under two pounds for tender meat. Count on one two pound lobster per serving. Make sure the lobster is moving and don't overlook culls and pistols. Culls have one claw, pistols have none. They are just as good to eat as the two-clawed variety. Make sure that the shells are bright and clean. Push down on them, they should compress which will make them easier to peel and eat.
Lobsters and other invertebrates have very simple nervous systems, much like insects, which means that it will not feel pain when cooked the way a human would feel pain. They have limited brain function to register pain, and only about 100,000 neurons. Humans have over 100 billion neurons. Lobster blood is quite clear, sometimes grey-like, which can become coagulated and white during cooking. This is normal and edible, although many people simply scrape the white film off the lobster meat.For the best tasting lobster, cook the creature in fresh Atlantic Ocean seawater be bring out the natural flavorings of the lobster meat. Unless you live on the coast, you can't readily get ocean water, in that case it is best to heavily salt the water you use for boiling. You can boil, steam or blanch your lobsters. Cooked lobster shells turn red. The lobster is done when you check the translucent meat to see if it has turned white.
If you cannot cook your lobster the same day that you choose it, you can store it live in your refrigerator or in a tank that equipped with a filtration system. If you choose to store your lobster in the refrigerator, make sure that you pack it with either seaweed or damp newspaper. Never store lobster in freshwater. Remember, they are saltwater creatures and the fresh ice or tap water will kill them. You can also freeze lobster whole in the shell for about a nine to 12-month shelf life. Your lobster will be fresh when you decide to use it if you prepare it according to directions from your fish market or supermarket. Lobster is versatile and not as much of a luxury as it was in the past, although you won't find so many of them washed up on the beach as the Native Americans did. So pour a little Chardonnay and enjoy.