Tonight, the husband and I will be gathering with some friends here in North Carolina to cook up a Maine lobster dinner for them. Its a sort of New Years pre-party. Cooking lobsters for folks who are less familiar with lobsters is always a big treat. For the past couple years that we’ve lived down south, my sister-in-law has been sending us lobsters for the holidays. This year, we decided to share the lobster love with some of our Southerner friends.
After living in Maine for several years, I learned that there’s lots to know about lobster – there are different kinds (Maine/New England vs. spiny), shells, and seasons for lobster. Who knew lobster were so complicated? Outside of New England, people often think all lobsters are the same.
It turns out there are two basic “types” of lobster that most of us will encounter in restaurants & grocery stores:
- American lobster – AKA the famous “Maine Lobster”
- Spiny lobster or “rock lobster”
The most distinguishing characteristic between the two is that the Maine lobster has claws! The spiny lobster is claw-less! This makes it very easy to ID a Maine lobster versus a spiny one. And technically, a spiny lobster isn’t actually a “lobster” anyways. It’s just a mere crustacean like a crab.
Generally speaking, the Maine Lobster is:
- Found in cold, shallow waters, like those of coastal Maine
- The most common “live” lobster you will come across
- Considered the most tasty, sweet, & succulent
The spiny lobster is:
- Found in warm water, like the coast of California & the Caribbean
- Covered in pointy spines
- Considered to have meat that is stringy, more firm, & less sweet
It should also be noted that the spiny lobster is often sold for the tail only (doesn’t have claws so no claw meat, remember?). Often times, unless it is specifically stated as Maine lobster, most things sold as “lobster tails” are coming from the spiny lobster. Obviously, on the west coast, it may be more economical to go with the spiny lobster. But if you’re in New England, the Maine lobster will be what you’ll have the best access to (and it sounds pretty tasty!).
With buying Maine lobster, the next item to possibly consider is whether the lobsters available are soft-shell or hard-shell. It seems that Maine lobsters “molt” or shed their shells. They will generally molt once a year, shedding a smaller shell in order to grow a larger harder shell. When the lobster has gotten rid of its shell and is in its “softer” shell that has not yet hardened, it is said to be a “soft-shell lobster” or “shedder.”
It seems that the pros and cons between soft versus hard, are debatable and are a matter of personal preference. Generally though, the soft-shell is considered by some to be superior because it is easier to peel and supposedly has a sweeter taste. But the hard-shell aficionados argue that the soft shell has less meat, no matter that it is sweeter. Soft-shell lobsters are generally only available during the summer months. In New England, the hard-shell lobsters will generally be available year-round (pricing going up in the winter). Whatever the case may be, both seem delicious to me!
Here is a video of molting lobster that I found on YouTube from the people at Good Morning Gloucester.