The European lobster is found from the high arctic, down to Morocco. They can grow up to 60cm in length and weigh as much as 6kg. Being crustaceans, with calcified exoskeletons (shells), they grow by moulting- shedding their shells. They swell until it breaks and then, with some difficulty, climb out of their old shells and go somewhere to hide (without a shell, they’re a walking wonton). The new shell is formed over a few weeks, it’s then ready to leave its hiding place.
It’s often said that they mate for life, this, we’re afraid, is nonsense (sorry Phoebe).
Oh and lobsters are blue when they’re alive, the turn red when cooking. Some people, it seems, don’t know that.
Fishing with pots for crustaceans is a pretty ideal way of catching things. There are strict limits on sizes, so fishermen can only land mature individuals and there’s a ban on landing ‘berried’ lobsters- that’s females carrying eggs. Pots don’t disturb the seabed either.
If a lobster’s undersized, they simply throw it back and there’s a very high survival rate (in the upper 90s). It’s a shame we can’t catch fish in the same way.
"not unlike hot curds, juicy and tender, and sweet as scorched honey from ocean depths."
Lobster is synonymous with decadence, the cartoon centrepiece of a Bacchanalian feast. It wasn’t always so, especially in America, where until the early 20th century it was fed to servants and prisoners- their abundance on the shoreline rendering them commoner’s food.
In Europe, they’ve been popular for much longer, with Samuel Pepys singing their praises. We think they’re delicious and should be served simply, boiled. For such a special occasion, you should probably make your own mayonnaise too. Leave lobster thermidor for the bland, frozen Maine lobsters, they need as much help as they can get.
As with crabs, it’s worth dispatching a lobster before you chuck it in the pot. The best way to do this is to put it in the freezer for 20 mins, then stick a sharp knife through its carapace (see pic). Use a large, sharp, pointed knife and please be careful. If you don’t trust yourself with a big knife, you could just opt for the freezer method.
It’s not a particularly pleasant job either way, but the reward is worth it and hey, you’re a meat eater and it’s something you need to grapple with. In his essay, ‘Consider the Lobster’, the late great David Foster Wallace weighs up some moral and neurological issues. If, having read that, you're still nervous, then we suggest getting yourself one of these.