Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
Aug 8, 2002 08:51 AM

Lobster Anatomy 101

  • p

I'm not a big lobster fan, and obviously no expert, as will become immediately apparent in the following questions. But I am the Chowhound of the family, and so became quite embarrassed at a lobster dinner last weekend when I had to stumble my way through a few seemingly simple questions.

Perhaps some more knowledgeable Northeasterners could help me?

1) The relatively hard red/pink/coral colored material inside a cooked lobster is the roe or eggs? Therefore only in female lobsters? Always in female lobsters? Or sometime? Are they known to have much flavor? Ever eaten raw? Used as garnish?

2) The more liquid green matter? Is that the liver? Therefore in males and females? Always? Is it also called the "tamale?" Where did that term come from? It's very tasty, should I not be eating it? Is it ever used in cooking outside the lobster? Do some restaurants remove this before serving?

3) There is often a very dark, almost black substance along with/next to the green matter above. Is that anything different? If it's darker, does it tell me anything? Does it reveal age? Season of harvest? Diet?

4) When ordering lobster, does male or female make a difference in amount of meat? Taste? Tenderness? How about time of year? I tend to eat lobster in summertime, but I wonder if winter lobsters would be just as good?

5) I don't want to rehash all the lobster cooking theories here. I believe I'm probably a purist when it comes to steaming a lobster. But I wonder if there aren't some wonderful recipes for splitting the lobster first, taking out the goodies mentioned above, and them cooking them separately? Any direction would be appreciated.

Marine Ignorant


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. The red stuff is the roe and the green stuff is the tomalley. Both are edible and - in my opinion - delicious. The black stuff should be discarded. It's bitter (the intestinal tract?) Supposedly females are more tender and meatier but I like them better because of the roe. By the way, if you have a Shoprite supermarket near you, lobsters are going for $4.99 a pound this week which is the lowest price I've seen this season.

    1. r
      Ron Rosenbaum


      The red/pink/coral substance is in fact lobster roe. To my knowledge, it is often eaten cooked, and any good cook would surely include it in a lobster stock. I'm not aware of any raw application other than perhaps some type of sushi preparation. I have seen it sold in cooked form, to be used for garnish.

      The green stuff is the liver or the tomalley, not tamale. Yes it is extremely tasty! It is sometimes used for lobster sauces, butters, mayonnaises, etc...
      I have known some folks to remove it for so called asthetic purposes, which to me is a crime.

      Summer lobsters tend to be more watery. It's also the time of year when they molt. Winter lobsters are actually tastier.

      Baking or broiling are fine methods of lobster preparation. I recently tried the "butter poached lobster" method made famous by Thomas Keller of the French Laundry in Napa. FANTASTIC! Like buddah.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Ron Rosenbaum

        When a lobster has just molted, there is a higher proportion of water to flesh inside. If you go to Maine in the summer, you can get the "soft-shells" typically much cheaper for this reason.

        As for preparation, what I often do for my wife who doesn't like the tomalley or roe, or for large gatherings for whom I don't wish to steam, a nice method is to split the thorax longitudinally (front to back) with a large chef's knife to kill the lobster, slicing back about halfway through the tail. Then remove (or not) the guts, and drop a piece of butter in the thorax and another on the tail and wrap well in heavy foil. Throw on a hot grill about 10 minutes/pound. The lobster steams in its own juices. Best of all, no pot to clean! To eat, we typically cover a table in plastic and newspaper and just throw them down and chow!

        If you want to make stock, collect the discarded shells seperately. The grilled shells have a concentrated flavor that makes your stock more potent.

        1. re: dude

          You might also try doing the same without the foil. The addition of the subtle smokiness is fantastic.

          1. re: AlanH

            Hmmmm, on charcoal? Sounds great.

            My method was for large weber gas grill, but I have a charcoal one as well...

            Any moisture loss? Also, does the meat stick to the shell at all? I've seen on TV a few chefs grilling lobster, but they tend to parboil a couple of minutes first citing similar reasons.

            1. re: dude

              I always use charcoal, not gas, so can't answer in that regard, but I never have any problem with this methoe. I start with the shell side down, or I don't split the body at all ( I just inset the knife into their tiny little brains to kill 'em first). Of course you'll get some moisture loss, but if you don't overcook them, the meat is still sweet and tender.

          2. re: dude

            Tried your wrapped-in-foil method over mother's day with half a dozen canner lobsters that were on special. Turned out great! I love the tomalley/roe but my boyfriend doesn't, so this was a perfect way for me to get to eat it all (made some roe butter, yum yum). Killing the lobsters was a little hard, as the writhe around for quite a while (5-10 minutes!) after plunging the knife in between their eyes, even with sticking them in the freezer for half an hour beforehand. Also, the males let out a very fart-y smell once we cut them open - anyone ever noticed this before?
            Anyway, letting the lobsters steam in butter and their own juices like that was fantastic. I liked that there was minimal clean up - also, I don't have a pot large enough for 6 lobsters, so this worked out really well. We cooked them for 10-12 minutes or so and they were perfect. The next day, picked the meat out of the two leftover lobsters and made Chuck Hughes' simple lobster rolls, and took your suggestion and made a stock out of the shells. Can't wait to use it for something!

        2. A few fine points:

          "Tomalley" is PRONOUNCED like "tamale".

          The roe is often referred to as the "coral". Only in lobsters, AFAIK.

          Pat Hammond once mentioned making a very tasty-sounding lobster salad out of all the bits and pieces less patient folks discard. I'm too lazy to search the archives for her post, so I hope she doesn't mind if I paraphrase. IIRC, she says you can get lobster shells from lobster pounds and fish markets where they just yank the big pieces out of the cooked lobster to make lobster rolls or whatever. You dig out the leg meat, the tomalley, the coral, and the little bits of flesh that remain in the body cavity after the "tail" has been removed. Sounds like a great idea to me.

          5 Replies
          1. re: C. Fox

            Pat Goldberg and I both posted about lobster body salad, I think. The bigger the lobster, the more meat you'll find in the body. I like to mix the tomalley and coral in with the morsels of meat, but you don't have to. Even a few smallish lobsters will yield enough to make a delicious spread to put on crackers or toasted rounds of good bread.

            1. re: Pat Hammond

              When is the best time to buy live Maine lobsters.

              1. re: celeryroot

                I buy them year around; I just avoid the soft-shell lobsters.

                1. re: celeryroot

                  They are least expensive and most plentiful in July and August, slightly into September, because that's when most of the boats are out and getting a good haul. They are available year round but only truly seasonal between June and October.

              2. re: C. Fox

                BTW, I saw lobster bodies in the Portland Public Market going for 3/$1. If we weren't strictly veggie at home, I'd get them all the time.

              3. Female lobsters with their delicious coral or roe are often considered more desirable. Their tails are also usually bigger then the males.

                There is a way to tell them apart based on tiny little swimmerets where the tale meets the body, see the link below for more info.

                My favorite part of the lobster is the meat in the bodies. The "knuckles" where the little legs meet the body have the sweetest meat if you ask me.

                A close friend of mine and 10th generation "Swamp Yankee" described to me when she was a kid her mom buying "buddies" 10 for a buck and picking the meat out of the knuckles and making lobster salad.

                By the by, summer lobsters can be every bit as good as winter ones as long as they are not "softies" or soft shells that have recently molted. Softies are a waste if you ask me.

                Check out the link below for all sorts of lobster facts!


                1. My very favorite way to cook (eat) lobster is a Hong Kong variation of Lobster Cantonese. Not for the faint of heart - I have two degrees in Zoology, so it doesn't bother me.

                  Tough part: Kill the lobster with stab all the way through the head. Chop the lobster into large (1-1/2") pieces, cleaning out gills and black stuff as you go.

                  Easy part: Exact amounts don't seem to matter, use more or less as it seems appropriate for your taste. Hot wok with melted butter. High heat. Toss in minced garlic (lots and lots) and ginger. Stir for 10 seconds. Add handful of minced pork. Stir until pork is gray. Add cubed lobster. Turn heat down to medium-high and stir fry for about 5 minutes, until lobster is cooked......cook gets to taste a piece just to check doneness. Add two handfuls of shredded Monterey Jack cheese (honest -- the Cantonese version uses egg white) and stir until cheese melts. Turn out on a serving platter. As the lobster cools, the cheese gets thick and makes the butter, garlic, etc. cling to the lobster. Talk about yummy!! It's okay to lick your fingers.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Karolyn

                    You get points for that recipe!

                    Sound really excellent.

                    1. re: StriperGuy

                      Thanks. I can always use points. Would a gold star be asking too much?

                      1. re: Karolyn

                        Points, a gold star, and a happy face! ;)