|My 4½ pound bug|
Shop-Rite had lobsters on sale this week - $6.99 a pound with your Shop-Rite card, $5.99 a pound with your card and a coupon from the flyer. The smaller lobsters were all softshells, which meant that they had recently moulted and would have less meat within - the tradeoff being that the meat often has a sweeter and more delicate flavor.
I selected a 4½-pounder from the tank and found out that the coupon wasn't good on the really big bugs - only on the smaller ones - but when all is said and done, $6.99 a pound is still decent for a 4-plus pounder. I don't often buy small lobsters to cook at home any more - none of us really care if we get individual lobsters, and I wind up making lobster rolls, lobster cakes, or just warming up the meat in a pan of hot melted butter and serving "lazy lobster."
The amount of meat inside a lobster varies. Softshells have the least amount of meat in relation to the size of the shell because they have recently moulted and the new shell has to give the creature enough room to grow inside. Hardshell lobsters have the most amount of meat in relation to the size of the shell because the bug has already grown to fill the shell and will be moulting again soon. Larger lobsters have a somewhat better ratio of meat to shell and it's a lot less work to shell one big one than it is to shell a bunch of smaller ones. So, if you're buying lobster to serve other than "in the rough," or for a recipe that will serve several people, you're better off buying a big lobster and cutting it into chunks than you are buying several small ones.
There is a myth that large lobsters are "tougher" than small ones. This isn't really true; if they're cooked correctly, a big lobster can be tender and delectable. I think people have a tendency to overcook large lobsters because they think that a great big lobster has to be cooked a lot longer than a small one. I always steam my lobsters (it's more efficient and, in my opinion, gives the cooked product a better flavor) and I do it this way:
- I use a large roasting pan with a rack in the bottom and a lid. I put a couple inches of water in the bottom of the roaster and put it over high heat on the stovetop.
- When the water is at a full rolling boil, I put in the lobster(s), on their back, onto the rack and cover the roaster tightly with its lid
- Lobsters should steam for 13 minutes for the first pound, plus 3 minutes per pound for every pound thereafter. So, my 4½-pound bug steamed for 23 minutes and it came out awesome. (13 minutes for the first pound + 9 minutes for the next three pounds + 1½ minutes for the last half pound = 23½, rounded down to 23 minutes for the hell of it. Who's kitchen timer measures in half-minute intervals anyway?)
- Take the bugs out of the steamer, set them in a bowl, and allow them to cool for a few minutes before serving or shucking.
I got about a pound and a half of lobster meat from the 4-and-a-halfer, plus half a cup or so of tomalley and some white lobster fat (I chill the tomalley and fat, then blend them together and use them for a spread on toast for breakfast - or you can use tomalley to flavor melted butter for popcorn.) I used the meat to make foot-long lobster rolls.
Incidentally, there seems to be quite a controversy about lobster rolls. No matter where you go in New England, a lobster roll is usually a top-sliced hot dog role piled high with dressed lobster meat. The disagreement centers around what the meat is dressed with. In Connecticut, it is most common to find "hot" lobster rolls, dressed with melted butter. In most other maritime New England states, "cold" lobster rolls are found, dressed with mayonnaise. Butter purists claim that adding mayo makes it "lobster salad" not a "lobster roll;" meanwhile mayo fans know that mayo rolls are everywhere in Maine (aka Lobster HQ) and if mayo is delicious enough for Maine it's delicious enough for them too.
Personally, I enjoy lobster rolls both cold and hot. But when I make them at home, I usually make cold lobster rolls, dressed with mayo, because that's what I usually had when I was growing up in Massachusetts. I'd be interested to learn which way you prefer your lobster rolls - let me know in the comments.