By: Deborah Reid
Nephropidae Homaris (North Atlantic)
Lobsters were once so prolific on the East Coast of North America they were considered lowly food for the poor. Fast forward a couple of hundred years, and now they enjoy luxury status. Live they run 25 to 50 cm (10–20 in.) in length, and weigh 450 g to 1.4 kg (1 to 3 lbs.). Their colour varies from olive to bluish-green with orange patches and black spots, and the two claws differ in size—the crusher is big and powerful, and the pincer is smaller. When buying live, allow 450 to 700 g (1 to 1-1/2 lbs.) per person and use immediately, or store in an open container in the refrigerator under a moist layer of damp paper towel or newspaper, ideally for no more than 24 hours. Before cooking, carefully remove the rubber bands around the claws, so the rubber flavour doesn’t permeate the delicate meat.
When cooked the lobster shell turns a bright reddish-orange, and the shucked red and white meat is tender, succulent, and has a sweet ocean flavour. Steam or boil for shucking at the table and serve with clarified butter and lemon. Split lengthwise and bake or grill with compound butter. Mix the cooked and cooled meat with mayonnaise and put into a soft bun for a classic lobster roll served with a side of kettle chips. Or go old school and make a rich and elaborate dish like Lobster Thermidor. It’s not just the meat that’s edible—the shells make a delicious stock for risotto or lobster bisque, and lobster lovers are quick to gobble up the olive green tomalley or liver. The meat is low in calories, high in protein and calcium, and contains less saturated fat, calories and cholesterol than many lean types of meat.
Found on the coast of the Northwest Atlantic from North Carolina to Newfoundland, lobsters live on rocky, sandy, or muddy bottoms, burrowing under rocks or in crevices. They can take six to eight years to reach the lower end of market weight, depending on water temperature, and can live up to 50 years. To grow, they must moult their shell, leaving them vulnerable during certain periods, and can moult 40 or more times in their lifespan. Omnivores, they eat fish, molluscs, crustaceans, worms, and some plant life, and can resort to cannibalism in captivity. It’s no surprise they’re called “bug” in east coast slang, given they’re invertebrates (related to insects) with a hard protective exoskeleton.
More than half the world’s supply of North Atlantic lobster comes from Canada, and it’s a profitable commodity for coastal communities. The season peaks in the spring and late fall, and is staggered in districts to protect the vulnerable summer moulting period. They’re caught using baited one-way traps strung together between buoys. The traps have an escape mechanism, so undersized lobsters don’t get caught. Biodegradable panels and rings ensure lost traps don’t continue to catch lobster and other species. The traditional process of dropping the traps and hauling them in is hard work, but it minimises the impact on the sea floor. Each lobster is pulled from the trap by hand, inspected and measured. Female lobsters bearing eggs as well as small lobsters are released to ensure sustainability. After harvesting, lobsters are carefully maintained in tidal pounds and inland seawater holding tanks that mimic the natural environment. Careful monitoring provides water purity and optimal temperature. Ocean Wise certifies many districts in Eastern Canada.