Lobster: A Maine Tail

When I moved to Maine in 2011, I wasn’t necessarily thinking about lobster. Sure, the gnarly crustaceans were filed away in my subconscious as the mascot of my new home state, but I had set out to explore Maine’s hub, Portland – an up and coming culinary town – not to wax nostalgic about a funky antique of the sea.

But as I bounced from pastry shop to craft brewery to noodle bar, inhaling new and exciting bites (and making friends and finding a job), I took note of something: lobster was everywhere. Prominent on virtually every menu board was the “next best lobster dish” – lobster mac ‘n cheese, lobster poutine, lobster pizza – and I remember thinking: Huh. Lobster really is big here.

Not unlike Maryland and its soft shell crabs, Georgia and its peaches or Texas and its brisket, lobster in Maine is unequivocally a thing.

However, there’s more to it than the state’s most popular food. An entire industry in Maine greatly depends on this sea spider. There are nearly 5,000 licensed commercial lobster fisherman in Maine who, in the year that I moved here, brought in about 104.8 million pounds of lobster. And the total amount of money lobster fishermen earned that year was $334 million.

With this level of demand, it’s hard to believe that these sea scavengers were once considered “peasant food” in the 1800s. Prisoners were fed lobster regularly because it was so plentiful and there were even regulations about how much lobster a prisoner could be fed because it was considered cruel and unusual punishment. Or so the story goes.

To think people used to apologize for serving lobster, and today it’s a hot commodity.

So, what’s the best way to eat lobster? In a creamy bisque with bites of succulent meat? Yes, that’s certainly a good way. In a pasta salad with fresh lemon, herbs and crème fraiche? Um, YES.

But the most common, most loved, and maybe even the most righteous way to eat a lobster is the old-fashioned way: whole, on a plate, with drawn butter and a lemon wedge. Don’t be shy to ask your table guests for tips on how to crack your crustacean. (Unless it’s green and gooey, all of the meat you dig out will be lip smacking.)

Oh, and don’t forget your lobster bib!

Claire Jeffers lives in Portland. Follow her on Twitter: @claireeats

Photo credit: Claire Jeffers