And although ShopRite's prices are rock bottom (Acme was selling lobsters at $12.99 a pound last week), retail and wholesale prices should be coming down, according to Joe Lasprogata, director of purchasing for Samuels & Son Seafood.
"Because water temperatures are cooler than usual for this time of year, the Maine lobster season is a little slow to start," he said. By July Fourth, there should be plenty.
Lasprogata, who works closely with the Marine Stewardship Council, buys only from suppliers harvesting Maine and Canadian lobsters sustainably under MSC standards. Because fisheries for Homarus americanus (a/k/a the North Atlantic lobster) in both Canada and the U.S. follow well-planned, rigorous management practices, lobster is a sustainable seafood resource.
The executioners' song
Getting the lobster from the tank to your dinner plate can be accomplished in two ways. Most fishmongers, including the folks at the ShopRite seafood department, will steam the lobster for you, free of charge. Or you can do the deed yourself at home.
If you're squeamish about killing your own food, you're not alone. The debate over whether lobsters feel pain is supported by studies on all sides of the issue. What is known is that the way humans process pain is not possible in lobsters, because they don't have a cerebral cortex. However, they certainly have a flight instinct, a good reason to keep the lid tight on the pot. Bottom line: To eat a lobster, you or somebody else needs to kill it.
Ann-Michelle Albertson, assistant director of her family's Cooking School, cooked many a lobster working at a restaurant on Cape Cod, Mass., during college. "You have to just go at it like anything else," she said. "You have a pot of boiling water, and that's where he's going to go. Whether you cut him in half first, or last, or talk to him or not. You can't let that lobster scare you."
Tim Spinner, chef/co-owner of Cantina Feliz, the new, modern Mexican restaurant in Fort Washington, loves his lobster marinated in a mixture of olive oil, parsley and garlic for about 10 minutes, then thrown on the grill for a quick sear.
He dispatches the critter by turning it over and slicing lengthwise through the body on the tender underside. "Rinse under cold water, and the gunk comes right out," he said.
All lobsters are killed to order at Cantina Feliz, which recently featured a grilled-lobster special served with a zesty Veracruz sauce on the side. Spinner's lobster fundido is the ultimate lobster indulgence, cheesy and spiced with poblano peppers and hot sauce. (See recipe.)
Buying frozen tails, which often come from spiny lobsters found in warmer waters, is another option. They're easier to deal with, but the meat tends to be less firm and not quite as sweet as their Maine cousins'.
"Some people really like the Brazilian tails," said Lasprogata. "There's a high demand for the frozen spiny lobsters, especially from the developing middle class in China and Russia. I like the Maine and Canadian lobsters myself."
Lasprogata, who says he can do some damage to a boiled lobster, recommends serving a 1 1/2- to 2-pound lobster per person. "It's very rich, but if you just cook a one-pounder, it's like a corned-beef sandwich - you always want that other half."
As to its nutritional makeup, lobster, along with shellfish like crab, is relatively high in cholesterol. But it's also a lean, high-protein food, according to Lance Armstrong's Livestrong.com blog. Three ounces of lobster cooked with moist heat has 85 calories, less than 1 g of fat, 17 grams of protein, 1 gram of carbohydrate and almost no saturated fat.
The cholesterol (not counting any butter you add, which is about 35 milligrams of cholesterol per tablespoon) in a three-ounce portion of cooked lobster is about 60 milligrams, measured against the 300 milligrams recommended should be eaten each day - about 20 percent. Generally, people on a low-cholesterol diet try to take in no more than 200 milligrams daily.
"All things in moderation. Eat a reasonable portion and pair with lots of vegetables, and you can't go wrong," noted Albertson, whose preferred method of cooking is steaming. "Sometimes boiling can make the meat a little watery."
You can tell a lobster is cooked when its shell is bright red, generally about 13 minutes for the first pound and three more minutes per each additional pound.
For a refreshing summer salad, Albertson pairs fresh asparagus with chunks of lobster meat, dressed with a tarragon vinaigrette. (See recipe.)
"Remember to save all the shells," she said. "You can freeze them for later and make stock, which is wonderful for soups, sauces and risotto." She likes to freeze stock in ice-cube trays. Each cube has about a tablespoon of stock.
Lobster on the barbie
As long as you are careful not to overcook them, grilling is also a good way to go, said chef Michael Favacchia of Marly's BYO in Phoenixville. "In the summer, when even the most seasoned chef doesn't really want to fire up the hot stove at home, I like to grill up my lobster right beside my other cookout favorites."
He advises cracking open the lobster claws in a plastic bag to help with the mess and stress of getting it ready to eat.
"If I'm working with just the tails, I like to parboil them and then skewer them through the center to keep them from curling before I put them on the grill." He grills them for about two minutes, then flips them over and cooks them for four more minutes, depending on the size.
"When the lobster is done, the meat will be firm, white and opaque. Be careful not to overcook as it will become chewy and tough." He tops each tail with a pat of butter, letting the shell act as a natural "dish," and serves with wedges of lemon.
Meritage chef Anne Coll grills whole lobster for about five minutes on each side, until the shell turns red. Pair with grilled corn taken off the cob, sliced heirloom tomatoes, chopped basil, shallots and lemon juice, and you have a perfect main-dish salad.
At Penne restaurant in University City, executive chef Roberta Adamo adds lobster to a traditional panzanella (bread) salad with fresh Jersey corn or uses it in homemade ravioli topped with a rich lobster vermouth sauce.
For a family Memorial Day party, she used lobster as the centerpiece for a New England clambake, following Thomas Keller's recipe from his Ad Hoc at Home (Artisan) cookbook, a seafood and lobster feast steamed in a large stockpot over a bed of rocks and seaweed.
"Lobster is one of those ingredients that lifts the level of any dish you use it in, making it something special," Adamo said.
Beth D'Addono has been writing about the Philadelphia and national restaurant scene for more than 17 years in local and national publications. She also is co-author of several cookbooks. Reach her at www.bethdaddono.com.
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