Lobsters: Kings of crustacea

Like love, the tides, flowers, and so many other of life’s delights, lobsters have a season. Living in a land-locked state as we are, thoughts of summer don’t necessarily involve the bounty of the sea, but in Maine, the state from which our humble Chef Gilbert hails, the start of summer launches with it one of the most abundant harvests the world over.

lobster-ocean lobster-table

The warmer season brings lobsters up from the depths, where they concern themselves with crustacean affairs to which we land-dwelling bipeds are not as yet privy. They may hibernate in the deep; they may not–for the gourmand, it doesn’t matter. What does, though, is that when the calendars flip to Caesar’s eponymous birth month, the seas around Maine unleash a feast that would make even the most gluttonous Roman quail. In recent warmer years, Maine’s lobster harvest has topped 90 million pounds, double what a good season used to net. A single boat out for the day can bring in over one ton of these delectable ocean-dwellers.

As David Foster Wallace so eloquently put it in his 2003 article “Consider the Lobster”:

For practical purposes, everyone knows what a lobster is. As usual, though, there’s much more to know than most of us care about—it’s all a matter of what your interests are. Taxonomically speaking, a lobster is a marine crustacean of the family Homaridae, characterized by five pairs of jointed legs, the first pair terminating in large pincerish claws used for subduing prey. Like many other species of benthic carnivore, lobsters are both hunters and scavengers. They have stalked eyes, gills on their legs, and antennae. There are dozens of different kinds worldwide, of which the relevant species here is the Maine lobster, Homarus americanus. The name “lobster” comes from the Old English loppestre, which is thought to be a corrupt form of the Latin word for locust combined with the Old English loppe, which meant spider.

Moreover, a crustacean is an aquatic arthropod of the class Crustacea, which comprises crabs, shrimp, barnacles, lobsters, and freshwater crayfish. All this is right there in the encyclopedia. And an arthropod is an invertebrate member of the phylum Arthropoda, which phylum covers insects, spiders, crustaceans, and centipedes/millipedes, all of whose main commonality, besides the absence of a centralized brain-spine assembly, is a chitinous exoskeleton composed of segments, to which appendages are articulated in pairs.

The point is that lobsters are basically giant sea-insects. Like most arthropods, they date from the Jurassic period, biologically so much older than mammalia that they might as well be from another planet. And they are—particularly in their natural brown-green state, brandishing their claws like weapons and with thick antennae awhip—not nice to look at.

Their functionally extra-terrestrial origins and appearance made these denizens of the deep less than popular in culinary circles when they were first added to the menu. In fact, it was considered cruel and unusual for prisoners in old New England to be fed more than one lobster per week. Perhaps due to the almost unbelievable abundance of lobsters (there are historical notes of early pilgrims wading into the sea and catching as many as they wanted by hand) and the crustaceans’ unappealing appearance, they were likened to rats and relegated to the position of same on the culinary hierarchy.

Fortunately for eveyone’s palates, this has long since changed. Lobsters are now as loftily placed (and priced) as the finest steaks, often sharing the same plate for a classic ‘surf & turf’ dish. Their light meat lacks the oceanic gaminess of most marine fauna, and it’s also richer and more substantial when prepared properly, allowing for superlatively nuanced flavors. Were it not so often served dripping with melted butter, lobster could even be considered a healthy meat, with less cholesterol, fewer calories, and less saturated fat level than even chicken.

While we may be quite a distance from their Atlantic homes, here at Beaujolais we take pride in providing the freshest Maine lobsters available (we literally pick them up from the airport alive, well, and covered in seaweed). A French chef raised in lobster country, Chef Gilbert delights in cooking with lobster, and you’ll taste it in every bite.