Samui Wining & Dining
Claws for Thought

The rise and rise of the lobster.

The rise and rise of the lobster.The lobster is a curious creature. It has to manoeuvre using ten legs. Its eyesight is poor and it’s definitely a loner. In the beauty stakes, it’s a non-starter; the animal is so odd-looking that, up close, it most resembles something out of a horror movie. Yet, despite all of this, it’s abidingly associated with luxury and the discerning gourmet; exactly the type of dish you expect to find on a luxury private jet or yacht, something to swoon over, a bit like caviar. Not surprising, as it’s amazingly tasty.

It may come as a surprise, but lobster wasn’t always considered a luxury. Such were the plentiful supplies of lobster along the eastern coast of North America, that in the colonial period, lobsters were deemed to be poor people’s food, and were fed to children, prisoners and house servants. Some servants would even stipulate in their terms of employment not to be served lobster more than three times a week. People basically ran from it. There was so much of it to go round that it was even used as fertilizer and fish bait.

Hardly much of a start in the culinary ladder to fame, you’ll have to admit. But thanks to new ways to keep lobster alive in ships’ holds, other areas developed a taste for the dish. In Boston and New York it became chic to eat lobster and it slowly started to gain in popularity elsewhere. Nowadays demand is high and supply low, so it’s become a real treat to have this dish. It’s certainly no longer the food of the poor; restaurants the world over offer many culinary delights that focus on the now not-so-humble lobster.

When you think of lobster you are probably thinking of the Maine variety, the large clawed lobsters that are caught off the eastern coast of the United States and Canada. They also have their counterparts in Europe. These lobsters thrive in the cold waters on both sides of the Atlantic and are the most heavily harvested for commercial use. There are also clawless varieties called spiny lobsters, though you may also know them as crayfish.

Lobsters are a member of the crustacean family and are a relative to shrimps and crabs. They can be found living at the bottom of all the world’s oceans. They move by slowly walking on the sea floor, using their ten legs to walk slowly sideways. However, when they need to escape danger, they swim backward quickly by curling and uncurling their abdomen. They generally live off small fish and molluscs and sometimes plant life, but have been known to eat other lobsters, especially if no other food is available, and sometimes they also do this in captivity. But if you find lobster skin in a lobster’s stomach, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it has eaten another lobster. It’s more likely the lobster has been digesting its own moulting skin – this is definitely a creature that believes in recycling.

Throughout their lives they continue to grow by shedding their shell. Some have been known to live up to 50 or 60 years old. The largest lobster ever caught, according to Guinness World Records, weighed 44.4 lb and was caught in Nova Scotia, Canada.

The rise and rise of the lobster.Here are a couple of tips that will help you get to grips with buying this spiny delicacy. Firstly be aware there are two types of lobster, soft shell and hard shell. Soft shell lobster means the lobster has just shed its shell and is growing into a new one. Many people think that the meat will be more tender and sweet. On Samui many restaurants offer Phuket lobster. This type has a thin shell with more meat, which is rich and sweet in taste but not mushy. The hard shell lobster can be distinguished by its discolouration, black marks or holes in the shell. Hard shell lobsters travel well and are often the choice for imported lobsters. Soft-shell lobsters are too delicate to transport very far.

If you are at a market, take a look under the claws. They should be bright red. And remember a live lobster doesn’t smell. If you want to buy lobster from a holding tank, then look at the length of the lobsters’ antennae. This is because in captivity they nibble each other’s antennae, so the shorter they are, the longer the lobster has been kept in the tank.

Once you have your lobster cook it the same day. Lobsters do not keep well. If you want to keep your lobster alive refrigerate it, but don’t put it in water.

Lobsters are almost entirely edible apart from the transparent bag-like stomach and the dark intestines, which should be removed. You can keep the creamy green-grey liver, called the 'tomalley', which has an excellent flavour. The shell is obviously too hard to eat but it can be used to make fish stock, or as the base for a lobster sauce or a soup. It’s best to steam the lobster to bring out the sweetness of the meat. Boiling alive is illegal in some parts of the world, including New Zealand and Reggio, in Italy. This is because lobsters can take up to 15 minutes to die in boiling water – a highly painful death.

The lobster industry is worth billions of dollars annually, with more than 200,000 tons (181,436 metric tons) of annual global catch. But it’s now an industry in decline with ever-decreasing numbers of lobster due to over-farming in the past and pollution of their natural habitat. None of this makes lobsters any less desirable, naturally.

Lobsters not only taste good but they are good for you. Maine lobster has less cholesterol, calories, and saturated fats than both chicken and turkey.

When you are eating out at one of the many restaurants on the island and have opted for a lobster dish, whether that be a simple grilled lobster tail with melted butter or lobster in a creamy or Asian sauce, you may be wondering which wine to pair with it. You can’t go far wrong with a Chardonnay. With an Asian sauce, you can also choose a sparkling wine or champagne.

As you can see, lobsters are no longer the food of the poor. You’ll often hear of them referred to as ‘the king of seafood’. And if you’re on Samui, you’ll have plenty of chances to dine royally on this dish.


Natalie Hughes


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