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But it wasn't a rooooock!
June 8, 2013 6:19 PM   Subscribe

"Lobster is fancy. If you imagine a lobster talking, it probably has a British accent. Draw an animated lobster and I bet you’ll include a top hat, a monocle, and an opera cape. But it wasn’t always like this. If today’s lobster wears a top hat and an opera cape, 80 years ago he was wearing overalls and picking up your garbage. Lobster is a self-made creature, and quite the social climber." How Lobster Got Fancy.
posted by Ghostride The Whip (61 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Just yesterday I had a conversation about how this might have happened! Nice timing; thank you.
posted by painquale at 6:32 PM on June 8, 2013


Mentioned but not linked in the article: Consider the Lobster.
posted by Valued Customer at 6:33 PM on June 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


We used to use it as bait.
posted by Ahab at 6:34 PM on June 8, 2013


Lobster's not fancy. Dungeness crab. Now that is fancy.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 6:35 PM on June 8, 2013


In 25 years all seafood will be a luxury item cause there won't be much left.
posted by The Whelk at 6:38 PM on June 8, 2013 [34 favorites]


Maine was dotted with lobster canneries in the 1800s. Back then, lobsters were huge. Factories considered four- or five-pound lobsters too small.

The oceans really are fucked, aren't they?
posted by mek at 6:41 PM on June 8, 2013 [15 favorites]


Gotta say, after going to Casco Bay (by the other Portland) for decades, it now seems like I'm buying lobster on sale these days. Opera Cape, maybe, but no top hat.
posted by kozad at 6:41 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've never understood the concept of lobster as a fancy food. Growing up in RI, its something eaten at a picnic table in the back yard while making a huge mess.
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:48 PM on June 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


I heard a story once that there were riots on Prince Edward's Island during the Depression because lobster was the only thing there was to eat.
posted by AwkwardPause at 6:50 PM on June 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Interesting.

I had no idea lobster was never not a luxury food. But then I don't eat lobster (because I'm a vegetarian, though perhaps also because I found them vaguely terrifying as a child in whatever the one supermarket that sold lobster was). I'd be kind of curious whether it's remained a low status food (or whatever you want to call it) in those places that produce a lot of lobster. (The article really only talks about tourists eating lobster.)
posted by hoyland at 6:52 PM on June 8, 2013


Yep. When my mother was growing up in Eastern Canada the poor kids brought lobster to school for lunch and the rich kids brought bologna sandwiches.
posted by ODiV at 6:53 PM on June 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oysters used to be like this too. In general, wild-caught foods have become more prestigious as they become rarer. In the 19th century rich people ate butcher's mean all the time and game was for folks who had to hunt and gather.

What's ripping my knickers is how cheap cuts of meat like lamb shanks are going way up as foodies discover slow cooking. There is nothing cheap left to buy now except offal.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:54 PM on June 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


McDonald's sells lobster rolls
posted by whyareyouatriangle at 6:56 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've never understood the concept of lobster as a fancy food. Growing up in RI, its something eaten at a picnic table in the back yard while making a huge mess I avoided eating bugs.
posted by DU at 7:00 PM on June 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


Yes, lobster was considered a poor man's food because it was dirt cheap and considered a 'bottom feeder'. When my husband's father was working in the coal mines on the East coast of Canada in the 1940s to 1960s, people who were poor would hide their lunches if they had lobster in their sandwiches. In fact, boloney (balogna) was considered the socially acceptable sandwich meat. Lobster fishing at that time was not a very profitable profession. They were practically giving them away for free. Now, a lobster license is so expensive (sorry, no figure) one can barely be bought. They are so expensive that they are now passed down from one family member to the next. Even so, it's not necessarily profitable. Things can change drastically from one year to the next. You never know what price you are going to get for your catches. The migration of the lobster is a huge factor. The government is becoming more involved, the lobster fishermen are not getting what they used to (this year, apparently $3.10 a pound), and this year they went on strike. They work their asses off for nothing. I know what the work is like because for some 'fun', I worked for free on a lobster boat for a day (a day being 12 hours) The bigger companies are moving in and making the profits.
posted by kitcat at 7:02 PM on June 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


I avoided eating bugs.
posted by DU


So then I can have your share of cicadas? :)
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:06 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oysters used to be like this too.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen


And for the definitive read on this topic, check out Mark Kurlansky's The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:08 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I read (poorly researched?) books set during the Regency, they mention lobster as a fancy meal semi-regularly. I knew the history of lobster here, and was never sure if it was true, because the history of lobster seems to start in Maine.
posted by jeather at 7:20 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Memory Palace podcast about the history of the lobster is fascinating, beautiful, and slightly sad.

I highly recommend adding it to your playlist.
posted by grudgebgon at 7:24 PM on June 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oysters used to be like this too.

Sort of, but they were relished, especially in the late 19th century. They weren't considered expensive luxury foods in the same way as today, but they also never really had the "poverty food" stigma lobsters did. All classes ate them in a lot of different preparations, all over the world.
posted by Miko at 7:28 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't like lobster. Never did. To me, fancy is any food that won't make me I'll.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:36 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lobsters don't age the same way we do. They don't suffer from decline and senescence. So, remember, every time you eat a lobster you are stealing immortality from another living creature. It will make it taste that much sweeter. Also lots of butter.
posted by Justinian at 7:39 PM on June 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


To me, fancy is any food that won't make me I'll.

That's why it's never a good idea to eat alone. If you invite a friend, food that makes you I'll will become food that makes you we'll.
posted by painquale at 7:41 PM on June 8, 2013 [43 favorites]


I avoided eating bugs.

I'd avoid chicken, then, unless it's free-range. Factory-farmed chickens seem to live like insects until they wind up in your sammich.
posted by Kinbote at 7:42 PM on June 8, 2013


In 25 years all seafood will be a luxury item cause there won't be much left.
Except for jellyfish
posted by islander at 7:44 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I kind of knew this in the abstract but didn't realize how lowly a food it was considered. Now I need an article about how flank steak got fancy.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:48 PM on June 8, 2013


Since lobster became a luxury food, it's interesting for me to see how well people know how to eat (whole) lobster. It seems like people (who grew up around here) who only know how to eat the tail grew up not-wealthy or inland/rural. Those who know to eat tomalley, get excited if there's lobster coral, and how to to get most of the flesh from the leg joint area grew up having a bit of money.Those who know how to efficiently get *all* the meat from a lobster typically grew up poor, but not necessarily low class.

mek - there's some hope. Cod stocks are slowly recovering.

With climate change, increased ocean temperatures may promote the rise of different species. Some of which might be tasty*. On the other hand, lobster stocks are moving further North as the waters around Maine are warming. Newfoundland lobsters have always been good, but I've heard anecdotes that stocks in not-overfished areas are getting stronger and tastier in the last decade.

*don't get me started on farmed fish being fed corn of all things.
posted by porpoise at 7:54 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Surprised this wasn't mentioned in the FPP, so here it is at the Maine Department of Marine Resources:
In colonial times, lobsters were considered “poverty food”. They were harvested by hand along the shoreline and served to prisoners and indentured servants who exchanged their passage to America for seven years of service to their sponsors. In Massachusetts, some of the servants finally rebelled. They had their contracts state that they would not be forced to eat lobster more than three times a week.
Edit: Sorry, I just noticed it. It's late, and I'm heading to bed.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:55 PM on June 8, 2013


I suppose if you can't get Moreton Bay bugs, then lobster would have to do.
posted by pompomtom at 7:57 PM on June 8, 2013


Now I need an article about how flank steak got fancy.

Here you go.
posted by Miko at 8:24 PM on June 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


I wish there was a chart of the cost of lobster vs the cost of butter.
posted by ifandonlyif at 8:28 PM on June 8, 2013


I would like lobster if I could convince myself that preparing it for dinner wasn't cruel....
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:38 PM on June 8, 2013


Sort of, but they were relished, especially in the late 19th century.

These days, people opt for a nice mignonette sauce in place of relish.
posted by Pistache at 9:13 PM on June 8, 2013


I could convince myself that preparing it for dinner wasn't cruel....

Just drop the lobsters upside-down head first into boiling water (with thongs if you need them). Quick and painless. Submerge and leave in for about 13 minutes per pound. Flush liberally with cold tap water. Serve with shell-crackers and forged kitchen scissor/sheers alongside lemoned-drawn butter.
posted by porpoise at 9:52 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just drop the lobsters upside-down head first into boiling water (with thongs if you need them).

I've heard of some prudish behaviour, but none can compare to insisting that one's dinner wear a posing pouch.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:58 PM on June 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


No you serve lobster with grilled asparagus and lemon butter. If you have a truly excessive excess of lobster you want Lobster club sandwiches and Lobster salad with cucumber and spinach.
posted by The Whelk at 9:59 PM on June 8, 2013


Lobster omlettes however, are one of those silly things people do, like smoked salmon omlettes.

The eggs don't touch the fish okay. Let's be reasonable. Make a bisque. Everyone likes bisque, it has cognac in it. everyone likes cream and cognac.
posted by The Whelk at 10:01 PM on June 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


And of course, if you keep the water from boiling the shells, Lobster stock makes a great base for seafood risotto, maybe studded with garlic lemon shrimp served after oysters......
posted by The Whelk at 10:04 PM on June 8, 2013


Plus, of course, grilled lobster and young corn, you can toss it into a salad or serve whole, the butter he's both. Yu can even get fancy and serve claw meat( the best meat!) like a sushi thing but eeeeeh, I like my lobby to be warm.

Sorry, I'm going to Maine soon and it's Lobster season and I'm in charge of the cooking and it's like four dollars a pound this time of year.
posted by The Whelk at 10:08 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've never understood the concept of lobster as a fancy food. Growing up in RI, its something eaten at a picnic table in the back yard while making a huge mess.

Erstwhile Nova Scotian, and, yeah, this. Lobster is just summer food, like barbecue and corn on the cob.

The above-mentioned McLobster is just a plain old lobster roll, which is a pretty ubiquitous menu item down east: It's lobster meat in a hotdog bun. Fancy!
posted by Sys Rq at 10:10 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not for nothing but my UK born, New England reared Super WASP SO would be kinda...appalled at ordering lobster both not in Summer and not in New England or very close, it's going to be rubbery and bland otherwise! Why bother? ! It doesn't travel well! It's super expensive out of season! Eat something else!
posted by The Whelk at 10:16 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The changing fortunes of lobster and chicken (Sunday dinner food when my mother was growing up in east Texas in the days before factory chicken farming) have always fascinated me.

My problem with lobster is that, as generally served in my part of the world, it's not a friendly food for anyone with any grasping/hand strength/hand coordination issues. I might be more interested in eating it if it didn't require major surgery to get at the goods!
posted by immlass at 10:39 PM on June 8, 2013


What's ripping my knickers is how cheap cuts of meat like lamb shanks are going way up as foodies discover slow cooking. There is nothing cheap left to buy now except offal.

Offal's going the same way - in a lot of places that are only served by supermarkets that don't do their own butchering, stuff like offal, stock bones, oxtail, shortribs have been priced like specialty items for a while now, it's obnoxious.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:22 PM on June 8, 2013


AskMefi (26 February 2005): Caring for your pet lobster
posted by Mister Bijou at 11:32 PM on June 8, 2013


I would like lobster if I could convince myself that preparing it for dinner wasn't cruel....

If it's something that bothers you, you can quickly and cleanly bisect the head with a chef's knife.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:43 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


See, if I imagine a lobster talking, it's because it has a magnet.
posted by lumpenprole at 12:32 AM on June 9, 2013


If I was imagining most things speaking it would be with a British accent.
posted by biffa at 1:35 AM on June 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


So what was the worst job you ever had?
posted by adamvasco at 4:19 AM on June 9, 2013


In 25 years all seafood will be a luxury item cause there won't be much left.
posted by The Whelk


Are you the same The Whelk who's about a quarter protein by weight, an excellent source of B12 and iron, and tastes awesome skewered and grilled or swimming in chowder?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:34 AM on June 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


obiwanwasabi: "In 25 years all seafood will be a luxury item cause there won't be much left.
posted by The Whelk


Are you the same The Whelk who's about a quarter protein by weight, an excellent source of B12 and iron, and tastes awesome skewered and grilled or swimming in chowder?
"

Mmmmmmmmmmm. We talking the shellfish whelk or human Whelk?

goes back to making a grilled salmon sandwich for breakfast...
posted by Samizdata at 5:15 AM on June 9, 2013


Zoidberg/What an honor!/Zoidberg

In my head, all lobsters actually talk like Zoidberg, which makes sense for a rich, fancy doctor, no? And remember:

Elzar: Here you are, big spender. Foie gras and caviar.
Dr. Zoidberg: [sniffs it] Goose liver? Fish eggs? Feh! Where's the goose? Where's the fish?
Elzar: Hey, that's what rich people eat, the garbage parts of the food.
Dr. Zoidberg: I ate garbage yesterday, and it didn't cost me 300 dollars. I'm not paying! I bid you good day, sir!
posted by ilana at 6:16 AM on June 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


My Mom loved lobster, and occasionally had it shipped by train to our Midwest town for parties. Yes, it used to be served at the Town Farm (poorhouse) in coastal towns. Maine has done a good job of enforcing standards to keep the population healthy, and the current price is relatively low, because there are plenty of lobsters. Lobster is best eaten outdoors, with drawn butter and lemon. It should be accompanied by corn on the cob, good bread, salad, and plenty of good beer. Fancy schmancy.
posted by theora55 at 7:48 AM on June 9, 2013


biffa: "If I was imagining most things speaking it would be with a British accent."

Especially if you've been watching this.
posted by Drexen at 8:36 AM on June 9, 2013


The sweetest lobster I have ever tasted were from Barbuda, which is probably somewhere most of you have not had the fortune to visit. Grilled on the barbeque at sundown.
Like most finite resources with no oversight this is now in danger of being a thing of the past.
posted by adamvasco at 8:39 AM on June 9, 2013


I feasted on a grilled 7-pound spiny lobster in the Dutch Antilles a couple of days ago. It was as big as my torso and basically a facehugger.
posted by painquale at 8:59 AM on June 9, 2013


I grew up in the region that is the center of Maine's lobster industry. It's a goddamn HARD way to make a living. Up in all weather, at the crack of dawn, winching up traps and dropping traps; constantly worried about the size of your catch and the price it will bring and whether that day's run will even cover the fuel you used to make it.

One of my friends from home is a lobsterman, and the shit he had to endure after he got his own license was incredible; the margins are thin enough that all new competition is resented. The issues ranged from thinly veiled threats to cut lines that left his traps on the bottom with no way to haul them up. He's established now, and generally has good relations with the other boats. Yet he's always looking for ways to make money that don't involve being a lobsterman.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:28 AM on June 9, 2013


I remember reading about high-pressure lobster peeling quite a while ago but here's a Wired article from 2010 that talks about it. No meat wastage and anti-bacterial to boot!
posted by djeo at 11:10 AM on June 9, 2013


What's ripping my knickers is how cheap cuts of meat like lamb shanks are going way up as foodies discover slow cooking. There is nothing cheap left to buy now except offal.

Even some offal can be a problem. You can't buy a tongue for love or money now - my butcher tells me they fetch so much for export that they have disappeared from the local market.
When China was stalling our (NZ) meat at the border recently, there were (corned) tongues available at the supermarket.
posted by Catch at 4:25 PM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I learned yesterday from Cooks Illustrated that the best method for cooking lobster is to put them in the freezer for 30 minutes before boiling. They are nearly comatose, but still alive, so don't thrash in the pot for anywhere near as long as without the freezer, or even the head-bisecting method. An ice bath will also work, but takes a lot of water and ice for more than one lobster. I also learned that it's best to boil them until the tail meat reaches 175℉.
posted by youngergirl44 at 7:23 PM on June 9, 2013


I'll share my lobster story here.

I have always maintained that I don't like lobster. I like a lot of other seafood, but not lobster. I'd a thousand times rather eat tender, flavorful blue crab, say, or fresh meaty sweet scallops, than a lobster. I find the meat rubbery and uninteresting.

But a few years ago I was part of a group that created a brand new local seafood festival in the town where I was living. We aimed to promote sustainable species that are underutilized, but we also had a representation of classic favorites like steamed lobster and cod, to support the work of local fishermen. We sold food tickets, and you could get a whole steamed freshly caught local lobster with lemon and drawn butter for $8. That is pretty good even in northern New England. So at our first festival, we totally sold out of 1- and 1 1/4-lb market lobster.

This was a problem because we had planned to feed our festival volunteers at the afterparty on leftover steamed lobster. There was nothing left over. So one of the lobstermen whose boat we were using produced a bunch of what he called "soft lobster," which he had been holding in his pound. It's what it sounds like - soft shell lobster, just after a molt, before the shell hardens. Soft lobster are not desired on the market, because the lobsters take a lot of water into their flesh at this time. They're considered "watery" and not a good value for the weight, at least as far as the market is concerned.

Well, he steamed up and served us this soft lobster. And as soon as I tasted it, I was in love. The flesh was moist, soft, sweet, fragrant, and delicious - like the best crab, only uniquely lobstery. I tore the thing apart (the shell is not hard, it's sort of like a vinyl texture, so no crackers were needed and it is really easy to eat ) and ate every bit of flesh I could find. We were all standing around marveling at how amazing this stuff was. Yes, we were all hungry from working all day, and yes, we had all enjoyed 2 or 3 bottles of donated Smuttynose. But it was still an absolute revelation of knee-buckling, good flavor. I will always cherish the memory of a few dozen people standing on the deck of a lobster boat, eating soft shell lobster and potato chips with dazed abandon.

I raved about this to the lobsterman later, and he said "soft lobster is all I serve my family. It's way better than mature lobster. But that's what the restaurants want." The flesh of the lobster shrinks when it's molting, and the water in the shell skews the weight. So people think it's a bad value. Well, let me tell you - if you ever have the option, eat a soft-shell lobster. It totally changed my opinion of this shellfish.
posted by Miko at 8:03 PM on June 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Miko, my lobster loving SO eats soft shell lobster exclusively, which is why he doesn't order it in restraunts, cause they never serve soft shell.
posted by The Whelk at 8:23 PM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


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