John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. Today I’m here with Steve Woodman, co‑CEO of Woodman’s of Essex, in Essex on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Today, we’re talking about types of lobsters and how to cook them.
Steve Woodman: Thanks for having me, John.
Types of Lobsters
John: Sure. Steve, what are the different types of lobsters that are available?
Steve: When you think New England lobster here up in this area, you think about what they call a Maine lobster, a New England lobster. But the two types of lobster that we have up here are the same type of lobsters. One is hard shell, one is soft shell, and a little bit of in between.
Like I said, they are the same lobster, but when they molt, they get soft and when they haven’t molted and they’ve had that shell for a while, they get harder and harder. Those are the basic two types of lobsters that we have here.
John: Right, so lobsters molt periodically — do they do that once a year or a couple of times a year?
Steve: Maybe once a year. Once they get a little bit bigger, they may take actually a little bit longer than a year to molt. Basically, you think of once a year that they do molt.
John: And they essentially just shed that outer layer of shell and grow a new shell and as that new shell is growing, that’s a soft shell until it hardens.
Steve: That’s right. It’s a soft shell and they’re more vulnerable. Generally, what they do is they go and hide because they don’t a predator to come eat them when they’re vulnerable with that really soft shell.
John: Okay. What about Spiny lobsters? I’ve heard of those. Are those totally different?
Steve: Yeah, spiny is a warm water lobster. You see them down south — Florida and the Caribbean and so forth. They look like a lobster with the same kind of eyes and the legs and the tail, but they really don’t have the claws. And so they are different. They are a lobster but they’re different than our lobster up here.
John: Right, so when you go down to the Caribbean or something like that and you order a lobster and you get it on your plate and you’re wondering, “Why doesn’t this one have any claws?”, that’s why. It’s just a totally different type of lobster.
Steve: That’s right.
Hard and Soft Shell Lobsters
John: What are the times of the year generally that the hard shell and soft shell lobsters are available?
Steve: They generally start shedding in the summer months, or even later summer months into the fall. It has a lot to do with water temperature and where they are, what they’re feeding and so forth, when they’re going to shed, when they’re going to molt their shell.
Some can start in the spring, and go summer and start hardening up. Others go throughout the summer, like I said, into the fall, but most of them are into the late summer into the fall when they are shedding. After they’ve shed, and they’ve been hiding, and they come back out, and their shell is starting to get a little bit harder, but really not hard, they are hungry and want to get out and start eating, and you start catching a lot of them.
That’s, like I said, at the end of the summer maybe into the fall months. There are more lobsters around there, soft shell lobster, and that’s generally when their price starts coming down.
Cooking Hard Vs. Soft Shell Lobsters
John: Okay. In terms of cooking and eating lobsters, hard shell versus soft shell, I know that some people have a preference there. Is it just because it’s easier to open up a soft shell lobster?
Steve: No. Actually, I go back to my mom. Her favorite lobster was a soft shell lobster. She liked it cold and not hot. So she’d cook it and let it chill, and after it was chilled, she’d sit down and have two or three lobsters in front of her and just break them apart and dip them in butter. That was her favorite way she used to love to eat lobster.
John: Can you not do that with hard shell lobsters or does it just take more work?
Steve: No, you can do the same thing but there’s a different flavor. Some people say that the only thing that you want is a hard shell lobster. That’s been promoted because with the hard shell lobster, there’s actually more meat in there. The meat is denser inside the lobster and so, you get more lobster meat per pound of the whole lobster with the shell.
With the soft shell lobster, what happens is they’re molting their shell, and so they’re growing a bigger shell than who they are because they can grow into it.
John: They have to fill in that shell and they grow a bigger shell. Then there’s a lot of space between their body and the shell. They grow into it, like buying an oversized suit or something.
Steve: Exactly. If you think you’re going to gain weight, you’d buy something bigger. It’s usually the other way around with us.
Steve: What happens when they have that soft shell and they grow into it, there’s a lot more liquid in there and it’s a little bit sweeter. You have that meat, so there’s not as much meat in there because when you cook it off, the liquid drains out of them. But the meat is not as dense and it is a lot sweeter.
So, if you really want to have a nice tasting lobster, I feel like soft shell is the best tasting lobster out there.
Ways Of Cooking Lobster
John: What are some of the different ways of cooking a lobster?
Steve: At the restaurant, we usually boil our lobster or we steam them depending on where we are and how we are cooking them at the time. But you can cook them in any way. You can take the shells, break them off, put them on the grill, and dab them with butter or maybe some garlic butter or come up with some type of wine concoction that you can put over them and put them on the grill.
You can have a baked stuffed lobster where you cut them open, take some extra lobster meat, and bread crumps, and the recipe that you have and stuff them and you bake them in the oven. Those are the ways most people think of eating a lobster here in New England.
John: You said that you tend to in the summer, when you’re really busy at the restaurant, you boil the lobsters because you can do it in big drums outside of the restaurant and boil a lot of them all at once because you have this huge long line of people waiting to get lobsters at your restaurant.
Steve: We actually cook lobsters outside near the side walk. We have two big pots out there and as people are coming in, we’re throwing in a bushel of lobster in each pot and cooking them off. So when they’re done, we take them out and put them on the bench. People are waiting for them — they just grab the lobster that they want, that’s nice and hot. And there’s a marking on it, telling them what the price is.
We cut it up for them, so it makes it really easy for them to get into it. They don’t have to fool around with any nutcrackers or whatever. It’s all broken apart for them. They get the lemon, they get the butter, they go inside, get their drinks.
Someone is with them and they’re maybe getting some French fries or some fried clams or something else to go with it or with a glass of beer. They get their table. They sit down and have a feast.
John: That sounds really great. It sounds pretty unique in terms of the way that you’re presenting that to people, to actually go and say, “I want that lobster right there,” to pick out the one that they want.
Steve: That’s a draw. Lots of people really, really like that, to be able to see the lobsters coming out. They see something that catches their eye. Maybe they’re looking for large claws, or maybe they want something with a large tail or they like the body or whatever it is. They go and grab the one that they want and they have fun.
John: That’s great information, Steve. I appreciate you talking to me today. Thank you.
Steve: Thank you, John. I’m glad to be here.
John: For more information, visit the Woodman’s website at woodmans.com or call 978‑768‑6451.