Winter lobsters are hard shelled, the best way to have them. In the summer they shed their shells and become soft shells, and the meat is less firm, more watery, not as good. The shells gradually recalcify and the flesh firms up after a while.
Lobsters with two claws are called primes, one claw are culls and no claws are called pistols. The claws are regenerated, and sometimes you will see one regular claw and one tiny one. It is a cull. I like to buy culls and pistols, they are cheaper and most of the meat is in the tail anyway.
Talking about claws, the big one with teeth that look like molars is the gripper, the smaller one, with sharp needle like teeth is called the shredder.
One pound lobsters are called Chicken Lobsters or chix, then they go up by quarters, 1-1/4, 1-1/2, 1-3/4. Then come 2 lb. lobsters, called Twos, and then they go up by quarters. Bigger than twos are Jumbos, starting at three lbs. The larger they get the higher the price.
Measured from the tip of the front shell (the carapace) to the end where the tail joins it, a lobster must be 6 inches. If not, it’s a short, and a lobster must weigh 14 oz. If not, it’s illegal seafood.
Weak, slow and dead.
When a lobster dies, the flesh gives up its fluid very rapidly, and the lobster is inedible. When the lobster is not feeling so well, and getting ready to die, it will be weak or slow. Held in the hand, it will sag, but show signs of life, but not flip and fight like a fresh one. Do the smart and kind thing. Poach it right away, and use the meat in a variety of ways that will be discussed later. As long as it was alive, even weak or slow, when you poach it, the flesh will be OK.
Plain Boiled Lobster
Roughly speaking, ten minutes or so a pound for the smaller lobsters is enough, 15-18 minutes for 1-1/2 to twos, in court bouillon. In the winter, when there are hard shelled lobsters, add five minutes to these times. We like to use a pot of court bouillon to simmer, never boil them, as the acid makes the shell redder, and preserves the flavor. For two pounders and up, you may want to twist off the claws, and give them an extra 3-5 minutes first, Then plunge the lobster, head first into the simmering stock. This kills them instantly, but the tail may splash by reflex. When they are ready to serve, insert your knife at the tip of the underside of the carapace, and cut down. Split the tail as well. Right at the point of the carapace is the “dead man,” or craw, which is full of bits of shell and other indigestibles the lobster ate. Remove and discard it. The green gland, or tomalley, is delicious, so leave it. If you see any red lobster caviar, called coral, save that for last, it is the best, and much improves lobster sauces. As a matter of fact, for plain boiled lobster, we prefer males as they are slightly meatier. The rest is easy.
A one pound lobster has only about four ounces of meat, mostly in the tail and claws, but don’t waste the body meat. The best tool we found is one of those scissors that they advertise on TV that can cut a penny. They go through lobster shells very easily. If you cut off the tips of the legs, and then rest the end of the scissors on the leg and pull towards you, a nice little strand of meat will pop out. Don’t forget those nice lumps under the feathery gills. Serve it with drawn butter, which is just melted butter, and fresh lemon. Don’t forget lots of napkins. Don’t throw away any extra shells. There is a use for them.
Not So Plain Lobster
Bear in mind that lobster meat, by itself, tastes wonderful, just dipped in butter, but….. There are times when you need to do something else with it. Lobster salads and lobster cocktails and lobster rolls are all best selling lunch dishes.
What color is a lobster?
There are always stories about people “from away” who, accustomed to seeing their lobsters cooked, are horrified by the color of a living lobster. They are sure it must be moldy. A live lobster is greenish-black on top and orange below, with accents of blue on the joints of its claws. That is because a lobster’s shell is composed of three pigments: red, blue, and yellow.
When one or more of these pigments are missing at birth, a lobster may be red, blue, albino (white), or calico (dark with yellow spots). Blue lobsters occur once in every 3-4 million lobsters. Red lobsters (live ones) occur once in every 10 million. Except for albinos, all the color variations of lobsters turn red when they are cooked.
How big can lobsters grow?
Unlike a human, a lobster continues to grow throughout its life, although it molts less frequently as it grows older. Accounts from colonial times reported lobsters that were five to six feet long. The record for the largest documented lobster goes to a lobster taken off Nova Scotia in 1977. It weighed 44 lbs., 6 oz. and was between three and four feet long. It may have been 100 years old. The record for the largest lobster caught in Casco Bay (in the Gulf of Maine) is 36 lbs.
So many variables affect when a lobster will molt and grow that deducing the age of any lobster is little more than an educated guess.