Lobster Facts

How do you keep fresh lobsters alive?  How do you pick up a live lobster? Are lobsters a healthy food, and how many calories does lobster meat contain?  And why do lobsters turn red when they are cooked?

People have a lot of questions about lobsters, and here are a few facts.

How do you handle live lobsters?  And how do you keep fresh lobsters alive?

Live lobsters are very perishable, and require a controlled salt water environment to remain alive.  They do not generally live much more than a day out of water, so ideally, you should cook your lobsters on the day you receive them.  (Cooked lobsters will stay fresh for at least three days in the refrigerator.)

Never place lobsters in tap water to try to keep them alive; lobsters are salt water creatures, and fresh will kill them.

The best way to keep lobsters alive at home is to refrigerate them; cover your lobsters with moist seaweed or a damp cloth (which you probably received with the lobsters when they were delivered), and leave them in the refrigerator until ready to cook.

How can you tell if your lobsters arrived alive?

If you ordered live lobsters, they will have been out of water for almost 24 hours when you receive them. Occasionally, one may appear weak or lifeless. This is a normal occurrence. In most cases, as long as the packaging material is in good condition, and the refrigerant is still cold, your lobsters will be fine. The best way to check is to boil the lobster. As long as the lobster’s tail curls when cooked, and the meat in the tail is firm, and in one piece, then the lobster was alive when it was cooked.

Because lobsters require careful packing and prompt shipping, you should only purchase lobsters from a company which offers a 100% guarantee if any lobsters arrive in poor condition.

How do you handle previously cooked lobsters?

If  purchased whole lobsters which have already been cooked (and several lobster delivery services offer lobsters boiled in sea water to lock in the “fresh taste of Maine”) you can keep them refrigerated for up to three days.  When you are ready to serve them, place them in a pot of rapidly boiling water. When the water returns to a boil, start timing. In just five minutes, your lobsters will be ready to enjoy.

What is the difference between Hard shell and Soft shell lobsters?

Lobsters grow by molting, or by shedding their shells each year.  Just after they molt, they are soft and fragile until their new shell has hardened, and they aew known as new shell or soft shell lobsters, sometimes called “shedders.”  After their new shell hardens, they are known as hard shell lobsters.

Soft shell are tender, sweet, and delicious, and represent about 90% of the catch during the summer months.  They are prized by maine natives, and are less expensive than hardshell lobsters as well, but they contain less meat than a hard shell lobster of the same size, because their body has not yet grown into its new shell, and so the lobster’s shell is larger than its body.

Soft shell (or new shell) shell lobsters do not travel well, and should not be purhcased for live delivery; most reputable companies will not even  try to ship live soft shell lobsters because they are unlikely to survive the journey.  Some companies do, however, offer precooked whole soft shell lobsters.

How does a lobster grow?

An adult female lobster will produce approximately 10,000 eggs when she is fertile. Each egg is the size of the head of a pin. As they grow, the eggs are held under the mothers tail with a special glue-like substance. The female will carry her eggs for almost a year. Then the eggs are released as larvae. It has been estimated that less than 1% of the eggs will survive to grow into an adult.

Lobsters grow by molting, or shedding their shells. Just after they molt, they are soft and fragile until their new shell has hardened. During this time, the lobster buries itself in the mud to hide from its natural enemies. When they are young, an immature lobster will molt several times each year. It takes approximately seven years for a lobster to grow to legal harvesting size (1-1 1/4 lb.). At this age, they molt just once a year, usually during the summer months. Each molt will increase their size by 1/4 lb. on average. When lobsters get older, they will often skip years, and molt less frequently.

What is a legal size lobster?

The State of Maine has special laws that are designed to protect our lobster fishery for years to come. We use a special gauge to measure the lobsters carapace (body). There are both minimum and maximum size measurements. The minimum size is designed to make sure that all lobsters are mature enough to breed at least once before they are harvested. The maximum size limit is designed to protect the breeding stock. A minimum size lobster will weigh around 1 lb., while a maximum size lobster will weigh between 3-4 lbs. The most plentiful, and most popular size of Maine Lobsters are 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 lb. each.  If you are offered a smaller or larger lobster than this, you can guarantee it is not a genuine Maine Lobster.

What color are lobsters?  Are live lobsters red?

Live lobsters are usually dark green or greenish-brown, but lobsters can be found in a range of colors including blue, white, orange, yellow, black, and sometimes even red.  “Calico” lobsters are multicolored, and some lobsters even have two distinct colors, separated by a line down their backs.  But whatever color they are when alive, all lobsters turn bright red when cooked.

How do you cook lobster?

There are several ways to cook lobster.  The most popular ways are to boil lobster and to steam lobster.

Why do lobsters turn red when they are cooked?

When a lobster is cooked, protein molecules in its shell bend into new shapes which reflect only the red wavelengths in light.

Are lobsters a healthy food?  What is the nutritional information for lobsters?

Lobsters are an incredibly healthy, low cholsterol food, which has fewer calories and saturated fats than both chicken and turkey.

Maine Lobster      72 mg           98            0.1 g

Skinless Chicken   85 mg          173            1.3 g
Skinless Turkey    86 mg          140            0.4 g

source: The National Institute of Health based on a 3.5 oz. Serving

What is the clump of little red balls in my lobsters tail?

Lobster eggs, or roe.  You have a female lobster that has immature eggs which she hasn’t yet released to her tail. It is called coral, and many people feel it is a delicacy; lobster caviar, if you will.

Lobster eggs turn red when cooked, but are naturally black, so if you are splitting a live lobster for stuffing, or if your lobster is undercooked, the coral will appear black.

How do you hold a lobster so you won’t get crunched by its claws?

Live lobsters should always be delivered with heavy rubber bands on their claws.  Lobster fisherman put strong rubber bands on its claws on as soon as a lobster is removed from its trap, to protect other lobsters from being damaged by the claws.  You can leave these rubbers bands on the claws until after the lobster is cooked, so you never need to worry about being injured by the claws.

How do you pick up a lobster?

To pick up a lobster, grab it by the back, just above where the tail connects to the carapace (body). The lobster won’t be able to bend his claws back enough to get you. Be careful not to let your fingers get below the tail; the shell on the underside of the tail has some sharp edges, and may cut you if the lobster flips it’s tail as if it was swimming.  (Lobsters swim backwards by flipping that powerful tail; you may have heard the old expression “crabs crawl sideways and lobsters swim back.”)

What is the white substance covering my lobsters meat?

Lobsters have a primitive circulatory system and blood. When they are alive, their blood appears clear, but once they have been cooked, the blood congeals and turns white.  You will often see it on the claws in particular.

The cooked blood has no taste and is harmless, but you can easily scrape it off if you wish. Sometimes you will see some blood in your pot as you boil your lobsters; this is quite normal and perfectly harmless.

What is the green substance I can find on my meat?

The “green stuff” that can be found in cooked lobster is tomalley, which serves as the pancreas and liver.  Some consider it a delicacy.  We have an article dedicated to lobster tomalley.

Are lobsters considered a delicacy?

Lobsters have long a symbol of gourmet indulgence for the wealthy, from the great Lobster Palaces of the Gilded Age to the dining rooms of the Hindenburg and Titanic.  But in the early days of English settlement in the New World, at places like Plymouth, Massachusetts, lobsters were so plentiful they were considered food for the poor and many colonial inhabitants probably complained, “Not lobster, again!”  Lobster tomalley is also considered a delicacy, although there have been concerns with the safety of eating this part of the lobster.

Where can I buy fresh lobster online?

There are several companies where you can buy Maine lobster online, usually within 24 hours and with free shipping.