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Much shell, little lobster


Anna N
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We splurged a bit and bought two lobsters about 1 1/4 lbs each BUT they had very little meat compared to the shell size. I have cooked many lobsters and I know that these were not overcooked. I understand that lobsters shed their shell and grow a new shell and I suspect these little ladies had just got themselves new shells which they still needed to grow into. Is this seasonal? Is there any way of telling from looking at them in the tank whether they are "full"?

Thank you.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

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I believe that you are correct, they were probably soft-shells, having recently molted. It is best to ask specifically for hard-shell lobsters at the fish-market. On the other hand, the soft-shell probably weighs less than the hard-shell, so maybe you would be getting more meat per pound with the soft-shells. How was the meat that you had?

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

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I believe that you are correct, they were probably soft-shells, having recently molted. It is best to ask specifically for hard-shell lobsters at the fish-market. On the other hand, the soft-shell probably weighs less than the hard-shell, so maybe you would be getting more meat per pound with the soft-shells. How was the meat that you had?

The meat was quite good - sweet and tender but there was so LITTLE of it!

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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Did you cook the lobsters or were they cooked by the store? If the latter, were they weighed before or after cooking? If the latter that might explain the lack of meat as the weight may have been from water from cooking.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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My suspicion is actually the opposite of "young." If they were in the tank quite a while, they ate themselves to survive. Lobsters autolyze, that is, they consume their own flesh in the absence of nutrients. Best way to tell is to pick one up in the tank - if they feel light for their size, they have probably been there quite awhile and I would move on - tank water is notoriously foul, and their flavor and quality is likely poor.

Paul

Edited by paul o' vendange (log)

-Paul

 

Remplis ton verre vuide; Vuide ton verre plein. Je ne puis suffrir dans ta main...un verre ni vuide ni plein. ~ Rabelais

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Wait, this doesn't make sense.

We know that their flavor and quality were not poor, which suggests they hadn't autolyzed. And Anna didn't say anything about the shells being soft. A shedder doesn't grow into its new shell; it sheds the old one when that becomes too tight, and the new one is still soft when it emerges (hence "softshell"), but fits pretty snugly and continues to do so as it hardens. So something doesn't compute. In theory there shouldn't ever be a time when the shell is too big for the lobster; it should always be the other way round.

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I cooked them myself and they were weighed before cooking. Further, I am not going by weight, I am going by the mass of flesh removed from claws and tail. My impression was that they were wearing a shell way too big for them :laugh:

I would say that the shells were not nearly as brittle as I am accustomed to. No nice sharp crack with the lobster crackers.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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There's some good basic information about molting here: http://www.lobsters.org/press/shellgame.html

It's not necessarily desirable to only eat hard-shell lobsters your whole life long. Hard- and soft-shell lobsters are both delicious, with the soft-shells having more tender meat and being much easier to eat. Soft-shells yield a lot less meat per pound of carcass than hard-shells, because they've got a lot of water weight. But soft-shells are typically a lot cheaper -- around here you can get soft-shells in summer for around $4.99 a pound on sale and in the winter you might be paying $11.99 a pound for the hard-shells (meatwise, even if the hard-shells yield double the meat, that's still more meat per dollar for the soft-shells). If you're buying lobsters at a low price during the warm season, you can be virtually guaranteed that they're soft-shells.

The important thing is to know what you're getting, so you don't pay hard-shell prices for soft-shells. The best way to figure it out is to grab one of the lobsters and give it a gentle squeeze around its midsection. A hard-shell will be, well, hard. It will have little or no give when squeezed gently. It will feel like armor. A soft-shell will have a lot of give to it.

My ideal lobster is probably somewhere in the middle: the late season soft-shell or early-season hard-shell.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Lisa, you are quite right, I should have added a "so, I'm stumped." I was merely positing a general rule that I avoid lobsters in tanks, generally, as autolysis is quite common. But you are right Anna indicated the quality was fine, and so I am indeed stumped. The only time I've seen a poor amount of meat for the shell size is when I neglected to pick the animal up myself - and it indeed "shrunk" due to auto-consumption. I've no other explanation for why a lobster's flesh is considerably smaller than its shell.

Paul

-Paul

 

Remplis ton verre vuide; Vuide ton verre plein. Je ne puis suffrir dans ta main...un verre ni vuide ni plein. ~ Rabelais

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I'm with the soft-shell idea...I just watched a show on lobsters and that is what they were talking about, that there was a lot more liquid and less meat in a soft-shell lobster... they look big, but they are much smaller.

"Make me some mignardises, &*%$@!" -Mateo

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Further, I am not going by weight, I am going by the mass of flesh removed from claws and tail. My impression was that they were wearing a shell way too big for them :laugh:

This one is way too easy. They were on Atkins :rolleyes: That explains everything.

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From a Rhode Island Fact Sheet, "The American Lobster:"

"Molting. A lobster's hard outer shell does not grow. Homarus can only increase its size by molting periodically. In preparation for molting, the lobster lays down a new, soft shell underneath its old shell. Just prior to shedding the old shell, the lobster seeks out a protected shelter - a rocky cave or crevice - because a newly molted lobster is soft and helpless, unable to move. Then the lobster rolls over on its side, bends into a V Shape, shrinks its extremities (especially the large claws) by drawing fluids from them, and withdraws from its shell. Over a period of several hours after molting, the lobster swells to a larger size and the shell begins to harden." (Emphasis mine)

I didn't know this about its molting mechanism. I suppose if one buys a lobster within this entr'acte, before it swells to fill its new (soft) shell, it would be smaller, per what Anna discovered. But it seems that as the window for this is a matter of hours only, at least in my experience, iI would guess it has more likely been the problem of lobster too long in the tank.

Paul

-Paul

 

Remplis ton verre vuide; Vuide ton verre plein. Je ne puis suffrir dans ta main...un verre ni vuide ni plein. ~ Rabelais

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Who knew there was so much to know about buying lobster! We used to buy our lobster from a fish market and always had superb lobsters but our guy retired and his shop was turned into a meat/fish shop and we found the new owners to be of a very different ilk - hence we now seem stuck with supermarket lobsters but this is the first time I have had what I consider a problem.

But you have all given me the tools to make much better buying decisions in the future - what more could one ask? Many, many thanks to all for your input.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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  • 7 months later...
From a Rhode Island Fact Sheet, "The American Lobster:"

"Molting. A lobster's hard outer shell does not grow.  Homarus can only increase its size by molting periodically.  In preparation for molting, the lobster lays down a new, soft shell underneath its old shell.  Just prior to shedding the old shell, the lobster seeks out a protected shelter - a rocky cave or crevice - because a newly molted lobster is soft and helpless, unable to move.  Then the lobster rolls over on its side, bends into a V Shape, shrinks its extremities (especially the large claws) by drawing fluids from them, and withdraws from its shell.  Over a period of several hours after molting, the lobster swells to a larger size and the shell begins to harden." (Emphasis mine)

I didn't know this about its molting mechanism.  I suppose if one buys a lobster within this entr'acte, before it swells to fill its new (soft) shell, it would be smaller, per what Anna discovered.  But it seems that as the window for this is a matter of hours only, at least in my experience, iI would guess it has more likely been the problem of lobster too long in the tank. 

Paul

No, it was probably a soft-shell. Lobsters are rarely in the tank too long, that is not a common thing at all. The window for molting is several hours, not for having a soft-shell, that goes on for weeks. It is hard enough to protect them, but there is a noticeable difference in hardness. A soft-shell lobster will gush tons of water and have less meat. Hard shells, will be packed, just full of meat. It's a seasonal thing, so you don't really have much of a choice.

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