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Foods

Lobster & crayfish
Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation


Why Eat It

The king of crustaceans, lobsters contain sweet, firm, succulent meat within their claws, tail, and body cavity. Lobsters must be cooked alive or killed just before they are cooked. The growing popularity of Cajun food has enhanced the reputation of crayfish, which has long been a mainstay of this spicy Louisiana cuisine. Unlike most other shellfish, crayfish (and shrimp) have a relatively high cholesterol content, with about 178 milligrams of cholesterol in a 3 1/2-ounce serving of cooked crayfish.

Varieties

American lobsters (Maine lobsters): The finest American lobsters (Homarus americanus) come from Maine; most of these slow-growing crustaceans are marketed at a weight of one to three pounds (the smallest are called "chicken" lobsters, the largest, "jumbo" lobsters). However, lobsters weighing 10 pounds or more can be found at some fish markets and restaurants; surprisingly, their meat is no less tender than that of smaller specimens. Lobsters are sold live, fresh cooked, and frozen.

Rock lobsters: Southeastern waters and the Pacific yield spiny or rock lobsters, which have coarser meat, all of which is in the tail (these lobsters lack the large claws of Northern lobsters). Frozen cooked rock lobster tails, usually from Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa, are widely available in American supermarkets.

Crayfish: Crayfish are found in freshwater lakes, streams, and rivers in Louisiana and some other parts of the country, particularly the Pacific Northwest. They are also farmed in several Southern states. Crayfish are harvested when about 5" long and are most commonly cooked live and served whole like a lobster or crab. The meat tastes somewhat like lobster, although it is not as dense and rich. Crayfish are sold live or fresh frozen; the tails are also sold cooked.

Availability

Lobster is available all year, but the bulk of the catch--some of which comes from Canada and Massachusetts, as well as from Maine--is harvested in the summer and fall.

The peak season for crayfish in the South is November through June, and they are at their best in early spring.

Shopping

Live lobsters and crayfish should be active, moving their legs when touched; a lively lobster will tuck its tail under its body when lifted. Choose crustaceans that feel heavy for their size.

Cooked lobster or crayfish should smell perfectly fresh, with no trace of ammonia or a "fishy" smell and should have bright orange-red shells. Be especially wary when buying cooked lobster tails, as dealers sometimes cook lobsters that have died, rather than killing them for cooking. If the lobster was alive when it went into the pot, the tail will be tightly curled. Fresh-cooked seafood should not be displayed alongside raw fish or shellfish, as bacteria can migrate from the raw to the cooked.

Storage

It's best to cook and eat lobsters and crayfish the same day they are purchased. Fresh-cooked lobster or crayfish will keep for two to three days in the refrigerator.

Preparation

If you plan to boil live lobsters, you can simply drop them headfirst into boiling water. If you plan to cook them by another method, such as broiling, they need to be killed first. If you want the fish seller to perform this task for you, be sure to make your purchase shortly before you plan to cook the shellfish; or you can do it at home using a heavy chef's knife.

To kill a lobster for broiling or grilling, place it belly-down and insert a knife tip at the junction of the body and tail shells. Cut the body in half lengthwise, remove the stomach and black intestinal vein, and crack the claws. Rinse the lobster well.

The trick to cooking shellfish is to heat them sufficiently to destroy harmful organisms, but not so long as to make the flesh tough. This requires careful monitoring, as shellfish can become tough by just a few seconds of overcooking.

To judge doneness of a lobster: It will turn from green or blue to scarlet, and its flesh will turn from translucent to opaque. In some cases, however, these changes may take place before the flesh reaches an internal temperature compatible with safe eating. Live lobsters should be cooked to 165°F, which you can test with an instant-reading thermometer that can be inserted through a vent at the end of the tail. (You can also test lobster for doneness by tugging on one of the small legs--it should pull off easily.)

Boiling: Live lobsters and crayfish are often cooked by dropping them into boiling water, which cooks them quickly.

Broiling/grilling: Place halved lobster flesh-side up under the broiler. A marinade or baste will keep the shellfish moist as it cooks.

Microwaving: Lobster tails can be microwaved.


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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