Maine lobsters are harvested year-round, but seasonal peaks and dips occur. As always, prices follow the market, rising with scarcity, dropping when stocks are high.
Here’s a rough guide:
January-March: The lobsters are largely dormant so most harvesters stay home. Supplies are low and prices relatively high. During this period, many live lobsters come from pounds—enclosed tidal areas where lobsters caught earlier can be kept alive and healthy. Pounded lobsters are just as meaty and sweet as fresh-caught lobsters, although their shells may have a mossy appearance because there is less tidal action in a pound than in the ocean.
April: The water is warming, the lobsters are on the move and it’s time to drop some traps.
May-June: Prime months for hard-shelled lobsters; quality is high and prices reasonable.
July-September: Molting time. Many lobsters
will have new shells during this period, so hard shell prices
rise. Maine lobsters are least expensive from the end of
August to early November because that is when most lobsters
October-December: Peak season for hard shells, just in time for the holidays. Quality is as good as it gets.
For chefs who need more stable pricing than the fresh
product allows, frozen lobster makes great business
sense. It’s also a smart choice for operations that can’t forecast demand with
any certainty. In kitchens with high labor costs, frozen picked meat can offer
Many Maine lobster suppliers will ship fully cooked frozen lobsters or lobster
meat, or raw frozen tails. During soft-shell season (July-September), some companies
prefer to ship only frozen lobsters as the fragile soft-shell lobsters don’t
live long out of the water.
For best texture, thaw frozen lobster tails or meat slowly in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can boil raw frozen tails directly from the frozen state. You can also reheat cooked frozen lobster without thawing first. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, allowing 3 quarts of water per 1-1/2 to 2 pounds of lobster. Add 1/4 cup sea salt for each gallon of water. Add the frozen lobster and remove from the heat. Let stand 10 minutes for 1 to 2 lobsters, adding 5 minutes for each additional lobster up to four.
Frozen lobster offers several advantages beyond just stable pricing. One great
benefit is that the lobster is processed, not just frozen, allowing the operator
many more recipe options. Salads, pasta or rice dishes, grilled tails, surf & turf,
stews, bisques, and many other dishes can easily be created with reduced labor
costs, faster prep time, on-hand inventory, better inventory and ordering control,
controlled food cost, and predictable margins. Operators can choose the most
suitable part of the lobster in the exact portions they need.
To freeze whole cooked lobster, wrap individually and tightly in plastic wrap, then place in a heavy-duty freezer bag and expel all air.
Live lobsters need to be kept alive until they’re cooked
to prevent deterioration. You can store them briefly in the walk-in or, if you’re
serious about lobster, you can invest in a tank.
In the walk-in:
Ideally, you should cook them the same day they’re delivered. However, you can
keep them alive for an additional day if you pack them properly.
In the walk-in, keep lobsters as cold as possible in an open container such as a cardboard box. Pack them with seaweed or damp newspaper to keep them moist but not wet. Never store them on ice or in tap water or they will die.
In a tank: Nothing piques customers’ appetites for lobster like
a live lobster tank. If you are considering purchasing one, do your research
and ask a lot of questions.
“What’s adequate for an aquarium is not adequate for a lobster tank,” says Jim
Harris, whose Maine company, Marine Environments, provides tanks in many restaurants.
Organic matter in a lobster tank breaks down into ammonia, which stresses the
lobsters, compromises their sweet taste and may kill them. Tanks need to have
a filtering system that keeps the ammonia under control.
Do you want a glass or acrylic tank? Harris advocates
acrylic because it won’t break, won’t sweat in hot weather and is a better thermal
and sound barrier than glass. People love to tap on lobster tanks—it’s just human
nature—but the sound stresses the lobsters.
Also be on the lookout for parts that can rust, rot or corrode. Lobster tanks with plywood bases can end up with bacteria and mold growth on the wood.
Ask what happens if the power goes out. If the water stops
flowing in the middle of the night, you could have a tank
full of dead lobsters by morning.
Some systems have a backup tank that the water drains into
if power is lost, leaving the lobsters dry but alive.
If you feed lobsters in a tank, they can survive for years. If you don’t feed
them, you need to use them before they decline. Removable dividers in a tank
can help you manage your stock, so that the oldest lobsters leave the premises
Extra-Lean Protein, Try Lobster
If your customers
are diet conscious, they’ll appreciate lobster’s
nutritional stats. Super-low in fat and super-high
in protein, lobster has only one gram of carbohydrate
per serving. And here’s a surprise: Ounce for
ounce, lobster has less cholesterol than light meat