WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HARD AND NEW SHELL?
Like all crustaceans, lobsters molt. When they shed their shell, a new soft shell is revealed. It’s called “New Shell.” These lobsters are easier to crack open, their meat is more tender and their flavor is sweeter.
Over time, these New Shells gradually harden, and the lobster expands to fill the new space. These are “Hard Shell” lobster. They are heartier, have a higher meat yield and have a brinier taste.
WHEN IS PEAK LOBSTER SEASON?
The short answer? Maine Lobster is harvested year-round, but there are times when it is more abundant.
Summer/Fall: Maine Lobsters move near the shore searching for food in the fall and summer, resulting in abundant catches for fishermen. They shed their shells during this season, resulting in primarily New Shell lobsters on the market.
Winter/Spring: Maine Lobsters move farther offshore into deeper water starting in the late fall. Lobstermen usually have a lower harvest during this time because they fish farther from shore, there are fewer fishing days due to weather, and lobsters are not as active as they are in the warmer months. The majority of lobsters caught during this time are Hard Shells.
IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MALE & FEMALE LOBSTER?
Scientifically? Yes. Taste-wise? Not really. Most people agree male and female lobsters are equally tender and tasty. Female lobsters can have roe, which is an internal egg sac, that chefs can use to enrich their recipes. The roe is different than the fertilized eggs that can be found sticking to the outside of the lobster’s tail. It is illegal to harvest lobsters that are showing eggs in Maine since they are helping to sustain the lobster resource. Lobstermen use a tail notching technique to ensure these lobsters are protected from being caught for life. Female lobsters can be caught if they don’t have visible eggs and have not had their tail notched.
The main way to tell male and female lobsters apart is by looking at the small swimmerets (small appendages beneath lobsters’ tails – sort of like tiny flippers) on the underside of their tails. The ones closest to the head are the reproductive organs. If they’re hard and orange-tipped, they’re male. If they’re soft and feathery, they’re female.
WHICH KIND SHOULD I BUY?
There are many ways you can buy Maine Lobster, each of which can be good for different recipes and for people with different experience levels with preparing lobster.
Live Lobster: Live lobster is the freshest lobster available and provides a unique dining experience. It can be boiled or steamed. The shell can be used for stocks, and the roe can be used to flavor. If you are looking for New Shell lobster, it is best to look in the summer/fall.
Lobster Tails: Available in the shell or as shucked meat, tails come fresh, frozen, cooked and raw. The highest proportion of meat is found in the tail.
Lobster Meat: Think of lobster meat as eating a whole lobster without needing to crack the shell yourself. Meat is harvested from the tail, claws, knuckles and legs and is sold fresh, frozen, cooked and raw. It is an easy-to-use product, that helps reduce labor and waste.
Lobster Mince: Lobster mince is a combination of the small pieces of meat found within the shell and flippers. It’s highly flavorful and has a light consistency, making it perfect for stuffed pastas, dips, soups and stocks. It is available raw or cooked. Mince is also easier for people who may not be as familiar cracking shells or cooking lobster.
These are some of the most popular lobster products. The majority of lobster products are available in raw, cooked, frozen and cooked formats.
WHAT UNIT OF LIVE LOBSTER SHOULD I ORDER?
Like most meats, lobster is ordered by weight. Some think smaller lobsters are sweeter and more tender. The larger-sized lobsters are rarer and therefore often cost more per pound. The Maine fishery protects juvenile lobsters to allow them time to mature and larger lobsters to ensure a robust breeding stock. Due to this, legal lobsters fall within a range of about 1 pound to about 4-5 pounds. Whole live lobsters are typically sold using the following terms:
- Culls – lobsters missing a claw (weight varies)
- Chickens – ~1 lb
- Quarters – ~1.25 lbs
- Selects – ~1.5 – 2.5 lbs (most popular, and therefore more expensive)
- Jumbos – >2.5 lbs
HOW CAN I ORDER?
You can order Maine Lobster directly from licensed suppliers in Maine! Use our database to buy from one of Maine’s hardworking lobster businesses.