Surely you are one of the gourmets who love lobster and enjoy this delicacy in many variations again and again. But did you know that there is a ‘lobster capital of the world’? Admittedly, the small town of Portland in the US state of Maine has given itself this melodious nickname, however, not without reason. This is because lobster is the central economic factor of the 66,000 inhabitants of Portland.
From fisherman to star chef almost everyone lives from the king of crustaceans. Celebrated in classic variations in gourmet temples, many of which are in Portland, simply served as a hot dog or as a cake. In Portland, the culinary variety involving lobster knows almost no limits.The fishing grounds in Casco Bay are rich and provide the efficient ‘Portlanders’ with a steady income throughout the year. But one particular weekend in July is the actual money maker: Since 1947 an unbelievable 9 tons of lobster are brought to the gourmets at the famous ‘Maine Lobster Festival’ in Portland. The festival grounds are located at Rockland’s Harbour Park. And for tourists who still haven’t had enough after the delicious lobster treats, the Portland fishermen have one more experience in store: A lobster safari. An experience that should not be missed as a passionate lobster lover.
Early and way before sunrise, the boats, including the Lucky Catch – one of the lobster safari boats from Mount Desert Island – sail out to the sea. It quickly becomes clear that the work of lobster fishermen is no picnic. Lobsters are caught by the fishermen in large lobster traps that contain live bait fish. The fishermen mark the ropes of the lobster traps with buoys before they let them down into the depths of the ocean. So that there is no confusion, every fisherman has his own colour, his own pattern. Around noon, the lobster traps are recovered, and the lobster is sold fresh. Three million lobster traps are placed by the 5,000 licensed lobster fishermen off the coast of Portland every day. Except for a few weeks in winter, lobster season is almost all year round in Maine. Although more than 50,000 tonnes of lobster are caught each year in Maine, there is no threat of overfishing, as is the case in some European fishing grounds. Fishing is only allowed to those who have a license and every caught lobster must be measured. If the crustaceans are too small or pregnant the fishermen return them back into to the sea. The question remains, where the best lobster is actually caught. The answer to this question probably varies depending on which region you pose that question to, because, objectively speaking, the lobster meat of American and European lobster is equally tasty and meets the same quality standards.
The main distribution area of the American lobster ranges from the coastal areas of the Canadian province of Labrador in the north to the Cape Hatteras of the US state of North Carolina in the south. Fishing grounds for the European lobster are the northern Atlantic from Lofoten to the coast of Morocco. But it is also found in the Azores and the western Mediterranean to the Aegean Sea, on the coasts of Bulgaria and Romania, in the western Black Sea and in the North Sea among others just before Heligoland. The European lobster is dark coloured and has large, broad claws. The colour may even be blue, especially among the animals caught in the North Sea. Grown up, the European lobster can weigh up to six kilos. However, on the markets, the majority of crustaceans have a length of 25 to 50 cm. The lobster meat of the European lobster is very delicate, and you should not spice it too much. European lobster tastes best when cooked, but you can also fry or grill it. Cooked lobster tails are great for lobster cocktails. American lobsters are often the larger specimens on the market. However, that is probably because the European lobster has already fallen victim to overfishing. Optically, both are equally distinguishable even if they are the same size as the American lobster has spines on the underside of the rostrum. The American lobster tastes delicious grilled or fried. Its firm lobster meat is fantastic while serving with sauces or as a soup.
Dining etiquette when eating lobster
Eating a lobster properly is an art, especially one that has not been previously dissected. In many restaurants, the lobster is already cut open and served with cracked claws or just the severed tail. In this case, you eat the loosened meat in accordance with modern gastronomy rules with meat cutlery (some restaurants also provide fish cutlery) and remove the meat from the claws and joints with the long lobster fork. If the lobster is not dissected your special cutlery consists of a fork, a fish knife, a lobster fork and a lobster cracker. Furthermore, you will be given a small bowl of lemon water to clean your fingers. If the claws have not been cracked, place the lobster cracker in the middle section and break the claws. The meat is removed with the lobster fork. The long legs are also opened with the cracker and the meat is pulled out with the lobster fork. You remove the legs by simply twisting them from the body with your fingers. You may also use your hands while handling the claws. Clean them in the finger bowl before you eat the lobster tail with fork and fish knife. You may need to remove the intestine in the tail part of the lobster, which looks like a dark thread. Bon Appetit.
Cannibalism is not uncommon among lobsters
Lobsters belong to the crayfish or crustaceans. They inhabit caves, require cooler waters with rocky ground, where they spend the day in caverns, rock crevices or in cairns at two to forty meters depth, and they go hunting at night. Their food consists mainly of mussels and bristle worms; however, their own conspecifics are also on the menu as lobsters are cannibals. Lobsters grow very slowly and shed their skin regularly. Only at the age of six, they become sexually mature and can live up to 50 years. The largest specimens reach a length of up to 75 centimetres and reach a weight of more than four kilos. Lobsters reproduce only at temperatures of just over 15 degrees. In late summer, the mating and thus the delivery of the sperm packets takes place, which the female lobster keeps in her sperm receptacles over winter. Only in the following summer, the fertilization takes place. Lobster females then release between 5,000 and 40,000 eggs. Depending on the water temperature, it will take another 10 to 12 months before the seven to eight-millimetre lobster larvae hatch.
Lobsters can be right and left-handed
The claws are the most striking body feature of the lobster. These can grow so large in older crustaceans that they make up almost half of the body weight. The claws have contrasting functions and are therefore built differently. One is equipped with sharp teeth and is used mainly for grabbing and cutting soft food. The other has a similar shape to a nutcracker and is used by the lobster to smash hard objects like snails or shells. In addition, the claws also serve the lobsters as very effective defensive weapons. Interesting fact: Scientists discovered that there are right and left-handed lobsters.
Enjoy lobster without a guilty conscience
I am not sure about you, dear readers, but I personally love lobster. However, I have not indulged in this luxury as a self-confessed animal rights activist. The thought of the crustaceans having to endure the hardships of global transportation and thereafter the cruel death in boiling water all while being alive right before being eaten by gourmets made my appetite disappear. However, there is another way, namely with the so-called high-pressure method. In this process, the lobsters die by high pressure within seconds immediately after being caught and are packed and frozen afterwards. While lobsters that have been shipped alive and stored in kitchens or aquaria for weeks at a time “eat themselves from the inside out” and finally hardly have any meat under their shell, high-pressure lobsters land in fresh quality on the guest’s plate. So, it pays off to ask before ordering how your lobster has started its journey to the gourmet eatery.
How lobster and quantum mechanics are connected
Have you ever thought about why the blue-black lobsters change colour and turn red when cooking? The explanation is simple: It’s a “quantum mechanical effect”. The red colour pigments are enclosed in proteins by pairs. These proteins break down during cooking and release the pigments: The lobster turns red.
Photo credit: Fotolia