Lobsters grow by molting—occasionally wiggling out of
their hard shell and then growing a new and bigger one. Baby lobsters molt several
times a year, mature ones only once, in the warm days between July and September.
Many people like these new-shell “shedders” because
they are easier to eat and
their flavor is
sweeter. You don’t even need implements
to crack them. They tend to be less expensive than hard-shell lobsters, so they’re
an attractive choice in summer for steaming or boiling.
Some chefs prefer hard shell lobsters for their fuller meat content.
Although some people have a preference, most aficionados would say that male and female lobsters can be equally tender and tasty. But only the females have the “coral” or roe, the internal egg sac that turns a vivid coral color when cooked and enriches some recipes. If you use the coral, you’ll need to learn how to recognize the females. Lobsters can do it; so can you.
Turn the lobster on its back and look at the swimmerets, the tiny flippers on its tail. The pair of swimmerets closest to the head are the reproductive organs. If hard, they’re male. If soft and feathery, they’re female.
Lobsters are ordered by size. Although some tasters think smaller lobsters are sweeter and more tender, lobster authority and chef Jasper White says he notices no difference in quality until the lobster surpasses five pounds.
Culls: lobsters missing a claw
Chickens: about 1 pound
Quarters: about 1-1/4 pounds
Selects: 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 pounds
Jumbos: over 2-1/2 pounds
Selects usually cost more per pound because they are most in demand. If you aren’t serving the lobster whole, consider buying the cheaper culls.
Live lobsters should be feisty, not sluggish or listless, and they should feel heavy for their size. When you lift them, their tails should curl and they should flail at you with their claws. If their claws are droopy, send them back. Pounded lobsters may have shortened antennae from an encounter with another lobster in the pound.
Shell Yield range: 17-19%
1 lb. live lobster yields 3.04 oz. meat*
To get 1 lb. meat, divide 16 oz. by 3.04
Need 5.26 live weight to get 1 lb. of meat.
$ x/lb. (live) x 5.26=$_/lb. meat
*based on 19% yield
Shell Yield Range: 20-24%
1 lb. live lobster yields 3.84 oz. meat*
To get 1 lb. meat, divide 16 oz. by 3.84
Need 4.17 live weight to get 1 lb. of meat.
$x/lb. (live) x 4.17=$_/lb. meat
*based on 24% yield
The yield of meat from a lobster can vary considerably
with the season. In winter, when they’re fleshiest, you might get close to a
25 percent yield. Soft-shell lobsters may yield much less, and the price should
reflect that. On average, you can expect about a 20 percent yield from a Maine
If you’re just after the meat, not the whole lobster, you may find it cheaper
to buy it already picked. Be sure to consider the cost of labor in your analysis.
Instead of ordering lobster through your seafood distributor,
who may not know the lobsters’ origins, consider buying direct from one of Maine’s
many suppliers, so you can
be sure you’re getting product from Maine’s clean, sustainable fisheries.
For a database of Maine lobster suppliers willing to ship direct to restaurants and foodservice customers, check www.lobsterfrommaine.com.