Maine Fishermen Want You to Consider the Lesser-Loved Lobsters

Once considered sea trash, lobsters now enjoy a position as a bona fide luxury item. But lobstermen hope to rebrand them yet again to teach us to love "shedders."

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Jun 15 2015, 6:25pm

Photo via Flickr user Neil Conway

Did you know that it's National Lobster Day? Yes, friends: Today is the day to bathe in a hot tub full of simmering lobster bisque, a massive lobster roll in each hand overflowing with buttery lump meat, perhaps with some crimson claws tied into your hair for a decorative touch.

As expensive and esteemed as the lobster is now, you may know that one point it was actually considered a near-worthless peasant food, a sea pest that was only suitable for feeding to cats or felons. Decades before it was the surf alongside your turf, the many-legged creature suffered from a serious image problem. "You know in Forrest Gump when they first pulled up their nets and a bunch of junk fell out? The lobsters were the equivalent of that toilet seat," as one writer puts it.

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But in the mid-19th century, with the advent of cross-country train travel, lobster had an opportunity to be presented out-of-context to unknowing riders who—lacking knowledge of its reputation as ocean garbage—found it tasty, especially after chefs caught on to the fact that it tastes a hell of a lot better if you cook a lobster alive rather than attempt to dress up its dead, quickly-rotting carcass. Increased demand greatly reduced the once-overflowing lobster population on the East Coast, especially after it enjoyed renewed popularity as a non-rationed food during World War II, and the next thing you knew, a delicacy was born.

And now, fishermen want you to reconsider the lobster yet again.

According to the New Hampshire-based Concord Monitor, Maine's lobstermen are eager to teach us to learn to love "shedders"—a.k.a. lobsters that have just molted and have a softer shell than the hard-shelled lobsters that consumers are more familiar with.

Restaurateur Steve Kingston tells the Monitor that shedders are "brinier," but also that the flavor has its appeal within the community. Now it's just a matter of trying to extend the taste for the funny-nicknamed crustaceans into the culinary community at large—especially during the summer, when they're most abundant. Just think of it as having your lobster rare rather than well-done.

He's not alone, either: the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative is the main force behind the push for the "summer of shedders." Though shedders have less meat and are more "watery," their flesh has also been said to be sweeter and more tender than that of hard-shelled lobsters. Could shedders become the next Maryland blue crabs, coveted specialties of the region?

The first step, hopefully, is to get chefs on board. If shedders aren't being prepared and served, they're not bound to be eaten. And yes—they are cheaper than harder-shelled lobsters, but that hasn't stopped hopeful industry people from dubbing them "Maine new shell lobsters," a name that offers a decidedly impressive spin.

More than two-thirds of the lobster pulled in Maine is soft-shelled, and molting season begins in mid-June, making this the perfect time to raise awareness and demand for shedders. Even if there's less of it and it comes with a squirt of brine, lobster meat is lobster meat.

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But there are also perks: Shedders can be cracked and shucked without the use of a mallet, their flesh is more buttery, and the hue of their meat is pleasingly pink.

Although soft-shelled lobsters are generally priced cheaper, they're more expensive pound-for-pound in terms of edible meat due to their higher water content. But that isn't necessarily evident at fish markets, and the campaign hopes to emphasize the per-pound discrepancy in order to reel in those who shy away from buying pricey hard-shelled lobsters.

The Maine lobster industry has actually taken a beating in the last decade, with lobstermen actually seeing a decrease in the price paid per pound for lobster since 2010. But with "Maine new shell lobsters" making their big debut this summer at restaurants and press dinners, there could be the opportunity for a reversal in that trend.

After all, you've probably eaten a Maine new shell lobster already—you just didn't know it by that name.

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