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Dec 1, 2013 09:29 PM

Tanks a lot: shopping for a live crab or lobster

What are some rules of thumb for shopping from the tanks at a grocery store or fish market? What makes a tank a good tank? Which crab or lobster is best to choose (for instance are the feisty ones better)?

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  1. Look for the most active ones in the tank.

    1. You have to be careful. The best way of telling if a crab....I don't ever eat or buy lobster here on the BC coast, is by lifting them and getting a sense of how heavy they are.
      It's a tricky business. A lot depends on the time of year the crabs are caught and the location. Best to ask a reliable/honest person selling the crab.

      1. On lobsters, look for long antennae. Some shops will tell you that they trim the lobsters' antennae, and you should avoid these shops. Lobsters will eat anything they can get into their mouths, including each other. Short antennae on a lobster means some of the tankmates have been nibbling on it, indicating that it's been in the tank for a while. Also, if you can get your hands on them, give the carapace a squeeze. It should be firm, not yielding to light pressure. If it feels soft-ish, it's either recently molted or been living off it's own fat for too long. In either case, the shell will be full of water, and you don't want to pay $15/lb for water.

        7 Replies
        1. re: ricepad

          Thanks for this advice. I hope I can remember it next time I go lobster shopping. And since you seem to know your way around a tank, would you mind assessing my assessment of the fourchu lobster and letting me know if you think it's worth the extra $$$?

          The lobster monger I spoke to in this regard told me all Atlantic lobsters were the same. Then he looked at me with a disdain so fierce it actually lowered my body temperature.

          1. re: small h

            If this is your first time ever cooking lobster then no. As a first timer the margin of error is pretty high- i would recommend cooking a few regular maine lobsters (1lb to 1 and 1/2 are more tender than the heavier older ones) and once you're more comfortable with the process spend the extra $

            1. re: Ttrockwood

              It wasn't my first time ever, but I cook lobster so infrequently that I'm not dependably good at it. I was just wondering if anyone on these boards could speak to whether fourchu lobsters are actually better than "regular" lobsters.

              1. re: small h

                I've had lifetime's worth of Homarus americanus trapped in waters up and down the Atlantic Coast. Banded a thousand or so myself. Nevertheless, I've never had one caught by certain fisherman from a small village on a small island in Nova Scotia. I do think, however, I've pulled enough traps to know that bugs rarely live in the same house for generations- just ask the stripers who have to forward their mail.

                If somebody tells you they have "Maine Lobsters" on sale, it has nothing to do with where the bugs come from - what water they're trapped in. It's not like they're crossing the Rio Grande and tryin' to get their kids into A&M. It's just a name.

                As suggested, the term "Maine Lobsters" refers to the species Homarus americanus that lives, and is caught, in the waters between Canada and North Carolina. There are no passports on the bottom of the Atlantic and bugs don't have pockets. If you want good, go local. Go with what was in the Ocean yesterday.

                I don't buy into the bullshit hype that some place has such cold waters that it makes a noticeable difference in the flavor of their insects. Maybe they charge a poll tax or something? I prefer my ice in the bottom of a martini shaker - where it has a much greater impact.

                The way I see it, if you surf NJ or surf NH or surf NS in April, you'll notice very little difference in the "ice cream" headaches you get duck-diving. That f*ckin' water is cold, really cold - even with a seven mil.

                BTW - Fourchu doesn't seem to have had much traction in the past couple years, huh?

                1. re: MGZ

                  <Fourchu doesn't seem to have had much traction in the past couple years, huh?>

                  I got the fourchu lobsters in 2012, which was the first time I heard about them. I don't recall reading anything about them last year, so as far as I know, yeah, maybe a one-off PR blitz.

                  And you're not the first person I've heard express doubt that the fourchu is better. But I've yet to hear from anyone who's done an actual side-by-side comparison.

                  1. re: small h

                    I'm pretty confident that a lobster I pull from a trap at sunup off the coast of Jersey will taste better than one sent from Scotia a couple days later. I mean, it ain't like Manhattan restaurants are featuring their "fourchu and seven days ago" Gettysburg menus.

                    1. re: MGZ

                      Do you think that lobster quality declines the longer they're out of the ocean? A clean tank might be an improvement over the sea floor.

        2. I agree with Trockwood. Look for lobsters that are active, with long antennas and on the small size. I actually like lobsters that are 1.5 to 2 lbs as they taste the best. Boil for 5 - 7 min and they are really good eats.

          1 Reply
          1. re: juliewong

            Yes! Someone who knows how to cook them. I see 10 min for a 1 - 1.5 even in supposedly good cookbooks. That long makes for a rubber chew toy.

            BTW, steaming is even better. Same timing, but less liquid when you crack it open.

          2. Ughhh. Just Ughhh.

            I'm gonna just speak to lobsters, since that's what I know.

            A lobster's activity level in a tank means very little. I've seen bugs look like they were dancing in a tank, simply because the water was changed after a coupla dead lobsters were removed. Maybe if you stood before the monger's tank for several hours, you might get a sense of which lobster was most recently pulled from the Sea, but otherwise, that's just a silly notion. I do, however, agree that you should never take home anything that is no longer capable of any movement or smells like ammonia.

            Speaking of ammonia smell. If you can see floaters in the tank or smell that chemical smell, go someplace else or buy frozen tails.

            As to the whole antennae notion, I do agree that sometimes those injuries are suffered in a tank. But, sometimes, they're suffered on the ocean floor. Sometimes, they're suffered as soon as they get in the tank. Sometimes, they're suffered in the trap. Hell, sometimes, they're suffered on the boat.

            I agree that holding a bug is the best way to get a sense of it's soul. If I'm not pulling traps with my buddy, I get my lobsters from a place just across the Manasquan River. They let me go in with my hands and pick my insects, but most folks are prohibited from such an approach. Mostly, it's 'cause any decent monger doesn't want your nasty hand lotion in their tanks, though, sometimes it's because they're afraid you have no idea what the hell your doing and don't wanna hear screams.

            I am a fan of soft shells and their discounted prices, so I don't care if a lobster I pick up gives a bit. Moreover, I'm cool with culls. I, on the other hand, will notice a hard shell carapice with a hollow feeling and reject it. That's a bug that ain't eaten in a LONG time.

            As to sizes, man, most of what folks say is total bullsh*t. I've caught lobsters from one pound to twelve, and even eaten a few in the fifteen to twenty pound range. Anybody who thinks that a lobster that weighs a certain weight tastes better than one a little bigger or a little smaller is fooling themselves. It's possible that such specimens turn over faster in a tank and therefore are more likely to be fresh. At bottom, Ladies, it's not the size that matters. Don't be afraid of that big ol' beast, it just grab it, pull it out, and relax. In the end, it simply boils down to knowin' how to cook! It's still gonna taste sweet and salty.

            As to a bottom line for the OP. Find a monger you like, develop a relationship, tip the kids at the counter, and be a faithful customer. I'm pretty sure that you'll be fine. Oh, and, see if they'll let you pick bugs by hand and taste raw slices of fish they're fileting. That's in!

            2 Replies