It’s hard to believe that an ingredient now regarded as such a shining star in the haute cuisine skyline was once simply discarded as a disposable item when it was no longer needed in fishing nets. How times have changed. Today, the lobster tops many lists of favorite sumptuous dishes coveted by discerning diners because of the distinctive taste and texture of its precious meat.
Owned since 1974, the Supreme Lobster family company manages distribution of the prestige product from its headquarters in Chicago to several Midwestern states and Las Vegas, purchasing live lobsters from Canada, Maine and other suppliers around the world. The company monitors the seasonal lobster harvest around the world to ensure customers are getting the freshest and tastiest crustaceans.
“In Maine and the north, lobster is a culture,” says Carl Galvan, national buyer and marketer at Supreme Lobster. “Every home has lobster traps, and by the age of 13 or 14, these hard-working entrepreneurs are either fishing boats or saving money for their own boats.”
Once the lobsters are caught, they are brought from the boats for evaluation. The lobsters that have received the variety are then packaged in boxes for distribution and sent to retail outlets. There are, of course, exceptions – pregnant lobsters, for example, are discarded. Seasonality, availability and weather play a role in determining the final market price of a product.
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“Lobsters are judged on shell strength, size and integrity,” Galvan describes. “Here at Supreme, we buy hard-shell lobsters, which are the most expensive, yet give the highest meat yield. They are strong and lively and we don’t have to worry about large product losses in our tanks.”
Size differences typically range from what Galvan calls “chickens” (lobsters weighing one pound) and “quarters” (1.25 pounds), to “halves” (1.5 pounds) and “twos” (lobsters weighing two pounds). Some giants can weigh up to five pounds or more. The “culled” ones have only one claw, but otherwise they are the same as any other lobsters in terms of quality.
When buying homemade lobsters, Galvan advises customers to look for fighting spirit.
“You definitely want to know he’s alive,” he explains. “When taken out of the tank, it should raise its claws at you and slap its belly with its tail as a defense mechanism.”
For frozen tails, make sure that the product is not burnt from the freezer and that the meat reaches the edge of the shell without gaps.
Once you get the live lobster home, keep it cold and moist in the box until it’s time to cook, and plan to cook it the day you buy it. Do not store them on ice or with ice, as fresh water can kill a lobster.
“Your fishmonger can wrap them in seaweed to keep in the fridge, or you can just put wet newspaper on top of them,” says Galvan. “Whatever you do, don’t put them in the bath.”
Quickly piercing the head with the tip of a knife is the preferred way to instantly and humanely dispose of a lobster immediately before cooking. Not for the faint of heart, you can also just toss them into a saucepan and cover with a heavy lid.
Feeling afraid or need extra help? Supreme Lobster offers a seafood guide and links to sustainability resources, as well as recommendations and tips for cooking live and frozen lobsters on its Supremelobster.com website.