Tips for Buying and Cooking Spiny Lobster

Measuring an under-sized Rock Lobster, Crayfish
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Spiny Lobsters -- A Tropical Delight:

Let's get this over with at the start: Spiny lobsters are not the same thing as a New England or European homard lobster. Biologically, they are only distant cousins, and in the kitchen, spiny lobsters are a bit tougher and are not as rich-tasting as a Maine lobster.

But that doesn't mean spiny lobsters are not delicious delicacies all their own. They are a rare treat in California, gathered in traps or by hand by divers and sold live in tanks.

This makes the U.S. spiny lobster fishery a "best choice" if you are eager to eat only sustainable seafood.

The same can be said for lobsters taken in Baja, Mexico, and Australia.

Sadly, spiny lobster stocks in the Caribbean are being overfished, so avoid them if you can.

From an eating standpoint, most of the meat in a spiny lobster is in its tail. Unlike New England lobsters, spinies lack claws, which is too bad because I like the claw meat in a Maine lobster best of all.

Spiny lobsters go a long way toward making up for this by housing an enormous amount of meat in their bodies -- there's an especially yummy chunk at the base of each antenna. Spiny lobsters, pound for pound, have more meat in their bodies than New England lobsters do. That means you will do well to buy whole, live spiny lobsters if you can find them.

Spiny lobster tails are traditionally grilled, basted with butter. They are also excellent steamed and roasted.

Be sure to get the thin little strips of meat from the tail flippers!

If you get the whole lobster, make lobster stock out of the body and legs -- once you've picked the body meat out.

When doing that, know that pretty much everything inside the body is edible except for the lungs, which are grayish and feathery and attached to the flanks of the critter, the sand sac between the eyes, and anything tube-like or crunchy.

You can eat the tomalley, but if you do don't make a habit of it -- it's like a liver, and is where the lobster stores toxins. The coral or roe is excellent.

What do you do with the body meat? Lobster Thermidor springs to mind, as does lobster salad or lobster sauce for pasta. The possibilities are endless.

When buying a spiny lobster, look for a lively one. Never buy a dead lobster that has not been frozen! Enzymes in the lobster rot the meat very quickly. When buying frozen tails, look for ones that have been vacuum-sealed: They will last up to a year that way.