I was inspired to write this post by a chef in New York. He was posting pictures on Facebook of a gnocchi he was making using lobster roe. The gnocchi was green, and after he boiled the pasta it turned an orange-y, red color. I questioned the prestigious and well-known chef and may have even gotten a little snarky: Surely, you mean tomalley? The tomalley is green and the roe is red!
Well, as it turns out, (sigh) I was wrong. The chef was using the lobster in raw form, and when the roe is removed from the raw lobster it is green and does in fact cook up red, the color that most of us are used to seeing it. Initially, I thought I should be a bit embarrassed of my blunder, but then realized that many of my fellow fishing friends did not realize that the raw lobster roe was green either. We don’t often use the raw product. (If you’re interested in trying raw lobster, you can check out Shuck’s Maine Lobster)
Let’s dissect a lobster, shall we? The lobster has a head; a body called the carapace; antennae; a tail; and some claws. Inside the lobster is reproductive parts, liver, muscle and poop. There are more scientific names, like chelipeds, but that’s not important for what we’re talking about. All of these parts of a lobster, in some form, are edible, but for the most part Mainers and the average consumer just steam lobsters and use the meat for lobster rolls or simply to dip in butter. There’s nothing wrong with that because lobster is just so darn delicious!
The shells and bodies can be utilized to make seafood stock: just add the bodies and leftover shells to some water with a few onions, veggies, and garlic, then boil; strain the water, and you have stock! Sometimes, the bodies are given away by seafood markets because locals will take them for stock or to pick the tiny morsels of meat out for stews or stuffed fish. (This takes too much time for the market but picking seafood is a favorite past time of some local fishing community members.) I love when the “Free bodies. Bring your own bag,” sign shows up in front of our local market. What must people think?
As I’m learning, even the sort of slimy parts on the inside of a lobster, both in raw and cooked form, can be used for other recipes such as gnocchi. In cooked form, the green stuff or the liver is often referred to as tomalley. Some local people like to eat this right out of the body, or will put it on toast. I’ve also seen recipes for tomalley bruschetta that look pretty delicious! The coral or roe or red bread is red in cooked form and some old-timers, locals, and more daring folks will eat this, too. (I tend to think it sounds a bit more appetizing in a gnocchi!) And, as I’ve learned, the roe is green in a raw form and can be removed from the uncooked lobster and used in various recipes.
Maine lobster is a sustainably harvested product, harvested by hard-working Maine fishermen from beautiful, quintessential Maine fishing villages. Maine lobster has a long, proud heritage and it is still a very proud and respected industry in this state, and all over the world. Maine lobster is absolutely delicious, though, I can’t help but wonder who ate the first lobster and what made them make that decision? The lobster is not changing, but the way chefs are using the product is evolving, so even us fishing families are having to keep up with the new and exciting ways it is showing up on menus. So, no matter what form it takes, you can always rest assured that if you’re ordering Maine lobster it’s an excellent choice. And, if you need more proof, you can always come to Maine and check it out for yourself.