Lobsters have long been considered a delicacy. The ultimate and proverbial "last and final meal" most people would choose before meeting our maker. Since lobsters have seemed so lofty and unattainable (especially in daily life) the general public knows very little about this fascinating arthropod. I was fortunate enough to be sent to Portland, ME last week to delve into all that encompasses the Maine Lobster. This trip could NOT have been more perfect for me, as I have NEVER had the privilege of visiting the beautiful state of Maine, and I have also become more appreciative of lobsters recently as I try to no longer eat red meat (or mammals).
In Maine, lobsters are a way of life. They are a massive part of the economy and also a way of employing thousands of lobstermen and sustaining their families. Seeing this dynamic and the importance of lobsters to this region was truly special. Thanks to the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, I was able to get an inside look on the entire process; from trap to table. Most importantly, we were to learn all about Maine "New-Shell" Lobsters. These are lobsters that have recently shed their hard outer shell toward the end of the summer. The shell is much softer, you're even able to poke a hole in a claw with your finger...unheard of for old or hard-shell lobsters. These "new-shell" lobsters are supposed to be the sweetest and tastiest lobster in the world, and I'm here to taste them myself!
The first stop on our lobster tour was the Cape Seafood processing plant. The vast majority of the lobster that is processed at Cape is shipped out to all the Luke's Lobster restaurants around the country. We really got up close and personal with all the lobbies here...all while wearing the finest in rubber boots, hairnets, gloves, and cloaks in order to keep everything as sterile as possible. We saw how the lobster is cleaned, cooked, cooled... and ultimately, picked. They had a room full of about 50 pickers who were as quick as lightening and can pick all the meat from a knuckle and claw in about 2 seconds flat. It was incredible to watch, not to mention the respect you garner for the pickers' talent, dexterity, and diligence.
Next, we got to actually TASTE the incredible "new-shell" Maine Lobsters at one of the most famous lobster roll restaurants in the country. The Clam Shack, in Kennebunk, ME, has won award after award and continuously has been voted "best lobster roll". They put in on a round brioche bun instead of the typical hot dog bun or split roll. They also use a mixture of mayo AND butter to give you the best of both worlds. It was a simple, sweet, and outstanding sandwich.
Later, we all were aboard The Lucky Catch, a real lobster boat. The weather was perfect, even out at sea. The skies were pure blue as was the water, and the shoreline of Portland was breathtaking. Few things are more beautiful than the historic shores and harbors of New England, and to see it from an actual lobster boat was surreal. Our lobsterman captain was going to show us the ropes (pun somewhat intended) of how to set the traps and haul in the goods.
First off, we put bait in bags. Several pounds of large herring went into each orange mesh bag. Those would then be placed inside the large and genius-ly configured lobster traps. Once we caught some lobsters we got to measure them and band them.
Measuring them is of utmost importance. The Maine Lobster rules and regulations are incredibly strict in order to conserve and sustain the lobster population. A legal lobster in the State of Maine has a carapace or body shell length that measures between 3 ¼ inches and 5 inches. If they are too big or too small they MUST be immediately thrown back. Small lobsters haven't yet been given the chance to breed and larger lobsters have shown that they are good breeders and are to be kept in the population. Check out this video I shot to see how it works!
We also had the rare chance to see a "berried" female, or a female who is covered in eggs. These females must be immediately thrown back and notched on their tail to tell future lobsterman that they are capable of breeding. It was one of the coolest things I have witnessed in nature.
When I heard we were going to the Maine State Aquarium, I wasn't all that excited at first, as I thought it would be "just for kids". However, when I saw all of the insanely rare specimen of lobster they had in their possession... I was blown away. Check these out!! The 1st is a 1 in 100,000,000 rare albino lobster, and the second is a 1 in 2,000,000 cobalt blue lobster. It was one of the most stunning sights my eyes have ever laid upon.
We closed out this lobster immersion trip by, well, eating more lobster! Attending the Claw Down event in Boothbay Harbor was a fantastic way to bring this experience full circle. 20 local chefs were competing for the "best bite" of lobster. It was a blast and was so cool to see all of the different and unique ways in which new-shell lobster could be prepared. There was pasta, sandwiches, stews, sautés, etc. Here is a lobster salad served with crispy chicken skin on a soft roll. Delicious!
I've always been a huge fan of lobster. However, now that I know everything that goes into the fishing, sustainability, dealing, processing, preparation, and of course...eating...I have an entirely new respect for this delicious animal. I've also now become a fan of the succulent and sweet "new-shell" Maine lobster. Make sure that when you order your next lobster, if it's in the late summer, early fall, ask if it's new-shell. If it is...watch your tastebuds explode and then please tell me all about it!!
To learn more, visit: http://www.lobsterfrommaine.com