Lobster Lore: How To Eat a Steamed Lobster

Lobster is one of those food items that people seem to either love or hate. I love it; Rich hates it. My mother craved it; my father could care less. But living near the water as we do here on Cape Cod, and being in the travel and tourism industry, it is best to know a thing or two about lobster and lobstering.

For instance, lobsters traditionally are a mottled green when caught, but there are also rare blue, yellow, red, and white ones. All but the white ones turn red when cooked. Lobsters are also capable of regenerating some of their body parts, including their claws, walking legs, and antennae. This can be especially helpful when faced with a life threatening situation. They can simply discard an entrapped limb and escape more serious injury.

Lobsters increase in size by molting, which occurs about 25 times in the first 5 to 7 years of a lobster’s life. When the time is right, they simply shed their outer shell and simultaneously absorb water to expand their body size. After molting they eat voraciously in an effort to replenish lost calcium and hasten the hardening of the new shell. No one really knows for sure, but many estimate that lobsters can grow to be over 3 feet in length and live for up to 100 years or more.

Female lobsters mate when in the soft-shell state, and depending on their size, can carry up to 100,000 eggs. For every 50,000 eggs laid, only 2 lobsters will likely survive to legal size. Minimum legal size is approximately 1 pound, which can take 5 to 7 years to attain. Nearly 12 million pounds of lobster are caught and cooked annually in Massachusetts. That’s a lot of lobster.

One of the first questions our guests ask is where to go for the quintessential lobster experience. Fortunately I am somewhat of a lobster aficionado, as was my mother before me. Steamed, baked-stuffed, in stew or en casserole, lobster is much more than just “the other white meat”. True purists, of course, prefer to eat lobster in the rough, or au natural, meaning as seemingly untouched as possible. Often this entails a seaside lobster pound, picnic tables, and the requisite bib. Arriving at your table steamed to a bright red perfection, the lobster (or “bug” as we New Englanders often refer to them) is served whole in its shell, leaving the diner to his or her own device to gain entry to the succulent meat contained within. A few essential tools are required–a lobster or nut cracker, a small metal pick, and in some instances, a rolling pin.

Tackling a Lobster

Eating lobster in the rough is a messy business, to be sure, but one that offers immense and immediate pleasure. It was not my father’s favorite pastime, being an accountant and not fond of getting his hands messy. But my mother was in absolute hog heaven when faced with a lobster. It was she who taught me the finer points of lobster domination. Woe unto the person who left behind even the smallest morsel of lobster meat in my mother’s presence. Now if you are not a purist, or lean towards my father’s camp of not liking to get mucked up, there are plenty of establishments that will do the preliminary work for you by serving the lobster with pre-cracked claws and slicing open the tail. Some will go so far as to remove the meat from the shell and serve it in a casserole with butter and breadcrumbs in a style we refer to as the “lazyman’s lobster”. But the true experience is a hands on proposition. So, here for the edification of the uninitiated, is the best, and most efficient way to handle a whole steamed lobster:

  1. Start with the tail. Grasp the body of the lobster with one hand and the tail with the other. Gently twist the tail until it separates from the body. Next, snap off the tail flippers (use your lobster pick to remove the sweet meat contained in each flipper). Then using a fork or your fingers, bend the tail slightly and firmly push the lobster tail meat out of its shell. A dark vein runs down the center of the tail. This should be removed before eating.
  2. Tackle the claws next. Again, grasping the body with one hand, twist the claws away from the body so that they separate at the knuckle. Spread the pinchers of each claw open until they snap apart. Use a nut cracker to crack the shell and remove the meat with a lobster pick.
  3. Break the legs off the lobster body. Use a rolling pin to push the meat out. Conversely, you can suck the meat out while gently squeezing the legs with your teeth.
  4. If you have patience you can remove the shell from the body of the lobster and pick the meat from the knuckles. This is time consuming work, but well worth it.
  5. You may encounter the greenish tomalley and coral roe inside the body of the lobster. The roe are the eggs of a female lobster, while the tomalley is the liver of the lobster and considered a delicacy by some.

My favorite lobster presentation, however is the lobster roll. Chunks of lobster meat are dressed ever so lightly in mayonnaise and served in a hot dog bun that has been grilled on the outside with butter. A bit of finely chopped celery can be added, but nothing else. Nothing; no onion, garlic powder, or any other unnecessary ingredients. And please don’t replace the bun with a sub roll, croissant, or other pretentious bread offering, or try to detract from the main ingredient with fluff like lettuce and tomato. In fact, the hot dog bun should be in the classic New England tradition, sliced open on top, not along the side.

Lobster Roll

I am such a purist with regard to lobster rolls that I have devised a rating system that measures quality on a scale from one to five claws. Criteria include presentation or visual appeal (a bun toasted to golden brown, sizable chunks of tail and claw meat, full, but not overflowing); taste; and ambiance of the setting (preferably outdoors with a view of the ocean). Few in my lifetime have measured up. And when I do find one, it is a treasure worth sharing. So please, if you are a guest at the High Pointe Inn and you want to experience a five-claw lobster roll, just ask me. But don’t be surprised if I ask you to bring me one “to go”.