Lobster. Mmm, mmm, mmm. It’s one of the quintessential foods of New England, particularly during the summer, and a trip to the Northeast just wouldn’t be the same without this tasty seafood. It’s a very versatile protein; you can boil it, bake it, fry it, bisque it, stuff it, put it in a casserole, ravioli, salad, or the ever-popular roll. But most lobster enthusiasts (and who isn’t a lobster enthusiast?) will tell you that it’s best fresh from the ocean, steamed until has turned bright red and can be eaten from the shell. Just get yourself a bib, a lobster cracker to break open the claws, and a little tub of melted butter and you’re good to go.
But what is it about this most unlikely-looking of creatures that makes it so darn special? That inspires people to travel hundreds of miles just to get a taste of it right out of the water?
If you had asked someone living in pre-Civil War America the same question, they might have laughed you out of the room. Because lobster, at the time, was considered a poor man’s food, unfit for the tables of the upper classes. It was so unpopular, in fact, that household servants in coastal New England and Canada sometimes stipulated in their contracts that they would not eat lobster more than twice a week. (Lobster twice a week? It was a tough life, folks.) Farmers in seaside communities used ground up lobsters for fertilizer, and seeing the bright red shells mixed in the soil was often a mark of shame for families who couldn’t afford anything better to eat. (Some referred to them as “the cockroaches of the sea,” and they were often considered less valuable than potatoes.)
But that was when lobsters off the coast of the Canadian Maritimes, Maine, and Massachusetts were beyond abundant; when they were known to wash up on the shore in piles, free to anyone who might stumble across them. It wasn’t until around the time World War II that people began to develop a real taste for the delicately flavored meat, and lobster started gaining attention and acclaim in culinary circles.
Now lobster can be found on menus in virtually every part of the world. Warm water, or spiny/rock lobsters, are a staple in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Asia, but are fairly dissimilar to their cold water cousins–they lack claws, and the chief source of meat comes solely from the tail. Far more well-known, and coveted worldwide, are the iconic cold water “Maine” style lobsters, with their two large pincer claws, thick trunks and tails. These hard-shelled beauties are the ones that appear in supermarket and seafood restaurant tanks and are durable enough to be frozen and shipped alive from Boston to Budapest, from Dallas to Dubai.
But the big secret of lobster lovers–the one that locals in lobstering communities often keep to themselves, and can only be found during the high season of summer–are the soft shell lobsters. Known for the intense sweetness of their flavor and relative scarcity of meat, soft shell lobsters are actually the same breed of lobster as the more well-known hard-shell variety; the only difference is that they have been caught during their molting stage. And during the molting stage, in preparation for growth, these lobsters’ flesh actually shrinks so they can shed their old shells and begin the process of creating new ones. Given the fragility of their exoskeletons, they can’t be preserved or transported easily, so can only be eaten close to where they were caught. Fantastic if you live in Bar Harbor, Maine, but not so fantastic if you live in, say, Boise, Idaho.
But fear not! If you are a land-locked lobster lover, and want to experience the fleeting delicacy of the soft shell this summer or a more robust hard shell right off the boat, don’t despair. Here at TakeTours, we offer trips to lobster meccas like Maine, Prince Edward Island, and Boston that will allow you to learn about the communities where the sea creature has become so iconic, as well as get a taste of lobster yumminess for yourself. Just don’t forget the butter!