12/13/2010

Maine Lobster: How Good Can It Get?

The lobster supply off our Bar Harbor shores has been growing over the past several decades, but the economics of Maine’s lobster industry will always result in a hefty price for lobster. I reported in an earlier post that a typical price for the picked meat was around $35.oo per pound in 2010.  I recently paid $30 per pound for frozen local claw meat from Hannaford supermarket in Ellsworth. Lobster fishers spend lots of time and diesel fuel in pursuit of their quarry. They also contend with streaks of low yields followed by booms. Finally, they have to return to the sea up to 80% of the lobster in their traps because of conservations measures which I discussed here. This all adds up to a price beyond the daily budget for family meals. So Maine lobster is an infrequent treat, but is it a healthy food? And what about the ethics of cooking lobster?

The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson is a book which answers many questions about lobsters in an engaging semi-fictional way, and has an appendix devoted to lobster as a food called “How to cook a lobster”. In it he dispels the myth that lobster is as rich a food as the price may suggest. The problems occur when you dip the meat in butter. By itself, lobster meat is more healthful than beef or even chicken breasts, containing twenty and thirteen times less fat respectively. Vitamins are plentiful: A, B12 and E; calcium, phosphorus and zinc and plenty of omega-3 fatty acids. Just avoid the tomalley (the liver, or “green stuff”) and lobster is a darn near perfect protein source, unless you need to limit sodium. The tomalley is actually a benefit, because it makes the lobster meat free from red tide or other environmental toxins. Consider a pasta sauce with lobster to avoid unhealthy fat.

So what about the humane treatment question? How humane can it be to plunge an animal into boiling water? Again according to Corson, scientists make arguments both ways as to whether lobsters feel pain. One argument against is that lobsters and other invertebrates do not “act pained” when losing a limb or inflicted with other injuries. The actions of a lobster upon being dropped into boiling water is standard escape response. Corson goes on to say that scientists have found little evidence that the lobster’s nervous system is more sophisticated than that of an ant, housefly or mosquito. He concludes by saying that the typical lobster will cease activity after 60 to 90 seconds of being dropped into the pot, and that this can be shortened to twenty seconds by first chilling the lobster to dormancy in the freezer for a few minutes.

Assuming you are now ready to plan your lobster dinner, there is one more detail you should know. Lobsters develop toxins within several hours of death, so make sure yours are still alive before you cook them. If you want a quicker death, you can employ Julia Child’s trick and dispatch them with a knife plunged behind the head. That’s what has to happen if you broil or grill them. If you’re still too squeamish, find a recipe which calls for cooked meat and you can buy it pre-picked for about $35.00 per pound. And if you want the real Maine lobster experience, stay with us and use the 5 gallon pot to cook them in. We are now accepting reservations for 2011.

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