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The 3 Types of Lobsters You Can Buy
When you’re buying lobster at the grocery store or seafood market (it’s best to shop at a dedicated fish market with high turnover, if you can) you might run into a few different kinds of lobster.
- Whole lobsters. Although it’s possible to purchase lobster tails or pulled lobster meat, Chef Keller prefers live, whole lobsters for the freshest flavor. Whole lobsters range in size from jumbo (up to 10 pounds), to 2-pound lobsters, to the 1¼-pound “chicks” Chef Keller prefers.
- Hard-shell vs. soft-shell lobsters. Hard-shell lobsters and soft-shell lobsters aren’t different varieties—they’re both American Lobsters (aka Canadian lobsters or Maine lobsters), just at different stages of growth. Soft-shell lobsters are lobsters that have recently shed their old shells to make room for new ones. The shells are thinner, so they’re easier to crack and pick. This species is found in cold waters on the Atlantic coast.
- Spiny lobster. Spiny lobsters (aka rock lobsters) are found in warm water on the West Coast of the USA, Mexico, Australia, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. They lack the pronounced pincers of their East Coast relatives, and some say they taste sweeter.
Chef Thomas Keller’s Tips for Purchasing Lobster
- Always purchase live lobsters. Look for lobsters that are strong and lively. One way to tell is to hold the lobster’s carapace (the upper shell) and make sure the lobster holds its claws above its head (i.e., claws should not be drooping).
- Select lobsters that weigh 1 1/2 pounds or less, such as 1 1⁄4-pound lobsters, also known as “chicks.”
- For cooking purposes, the differences between male and female lobsters are negligible, with the main advantage being that the female lobsters have roe, which can be used for making coral oil or as a garnish for dishes. For the Chef Keller’s Lobster Mac and Cheese, both male and female lobsters work equally well.
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