04/27/2015 09:00 EDT | Updated 07/29/2015 09:59 EDT

Succulent flavourful lobster from Maritimes best enjoyed in a casual setting

LONDON, Ont. - For many Canadians, lobster is a dress-up, special-occasion food eaten at a fancy restaurant.

"But it should be the total opposite," says Alain Bosse, "the kilted chef" from Pictou County, N.S.

"You should be dressing down and eating it at your picnic table."

The food consultant and "ambassador of all things culinary in Atlantic Canada" says the Maritimes "have the best lobster in the world.

"We have the most pristine water and because of our cold climate, our shells are harder and meatier. We end up with a good, hard-shelled quality lobster that's full of meat, versus a soft-shell lobster that's moulting," he says.

"And we sell more lobster than anywhere else in the world, Maine included."

The Halifax-based Lobster Council of Canada's executive director, Geoff Irvine, confirms Canada provides more than half the world's supply of live and processed hard-shell Atlantic lobster, with an export value last year of $1.5 billion.

The industry is highly regulated, Irvine says.

The Atlantic coast (there's no lobster on the West Coast) is divided into 41 "lobster fishery areas" (LFAs), each with its own "season" — a starting and finishing date. Fishers are licensed for specific areas. May and December are peak production times, but at least one LFA is in operation in any given month.

Most lobsters are harvested within 15 kilometres of shore, but there is also one year-round fishery about 90 kilometres off Nova Scotia.

These staggered seasons encourage sustainability but also protect summer moults. Lobsters shed their shells to grow and are at their best when the new shells have hardened and are full of meat.

About 40 per cent of the lobster catch is delivered live to customers and 60 per cent is processed into "literally hundreds of products," Irvine says. There is very little "canning" of lobster anymore. Instead, it's flash frozen whole or in pieces and packed in plastic bags.

Despite accessibility to fresh lobster, Bosse still calls it a "wonderful treat." But that accessibility may explain a more casual approach to a lobster dinner in the Maritimes, including roadside "pounds" where the only accompaniments may be a paper plate and plastic utensils.

"Typically in Atlantic Canada, we eat lobster cold, dipped in hot butter," he says. "And we always eat it either with french fries, potato salad or french bread."

If unfamiliar with the crustacean, a great way to start is to buy it — raw or cooked — already fully or partly removed from the shell. That eliminates the issues of dropping live lobsters into boiling water to cook and of wrestling the meat out of the full shell.

Frozen lobster must be thawed properly, Bosse says.

Immerse unopened packages in cold water in the refrigerator. Allow two hours per 500 grams (one pound) for pieces or three to five hours for whole frozen lobster. It should not be thawed in warm water or at room temperature, but small packs can be set under cold running water to speed the process.

Once thawed, drain it thoroughly. Precooked meat is ready to eat, requiring only a short cooking time if you want it hot.

Lobster is best consumed within 24 to 36 hours of thawing.

Overcooking is probably the most common mistake, Bosse says.

A 625-gram (1.25-pound) raw lobster "takes about 12 minutes in boiling water or steamed and you only add a minute per quarter-pound (125 g). A lobster tail, stuffed with butter and baked in the oven, takes six or eight minutes at 350 or 400 F (180 or 200 C)."

Lobster meat is cooked "when it starts to become opaque — a nice white colour." For whole lobster, if you pull the tentacle and it releases fairly easily, the lobster's cooked.


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