Reports from Maine indicate that the price of lobster has hit a thirty-year low. Lobstermen are complaining that the dockside price offered to them has dipped below $2 per pound, and that they can’t make money under $4—given labor costs and the price of fuel, it’s not even worth the effort. An informal strike is underway, with boats tied up in harbors along the coast as a form of protest.
The conventional wisdom is that this may be a bad situation for lobstermen, but it’s certainly good news for consumers. Correct?
Not exactly. The lobsters harvested at this time of year are soft shells, the byproduct of a molting season. Not only are these crustaceans smaller and have less meat, but they don’t travel well. Even if they did, consumer demand in other parts of the country is as soft as their shells. Steak houses that serve jumbo lobsters to enhance their reputations are not about to make the switch.
As a result, the price of lobster meat rises steadily as you get further away from Maine. There will likely be a slight decrease in New York City, but the needle isn’t going to move here in South Florida. Prices for hard shells in your neighborhood supermarket or gourmet store are likely to hover around $12/pound. In any case, meat from the soft shells is destined to end up in lobster rolls, one of the most misunderstood dishes in America.
Anyone who has visited Maine has voluptuous memories of lobster rolls. The best of them are the essence of simplicity: the fresh, tender and succulent meat of a one-pound lobster is piled on a soft bun and presented with a minimum of fanfare. Order one outside of Maine, and you’re bound to be disappointed. Not only are the raw materials inferior, but chefs seem compelled to doctor the ingredients to prove their culinary mettle. Locally, the closest we get to the real thing is probably Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine. Her lobster roll contains only claw and knuckle (regarded by many purists as the best), but comes in at $16.95 with four ounces of meat—not exactly a bargain.
All of this brings to mind that old commercial where the guy drives his sports car several hundred miles along Northeastern coastal road and ends up in a lobster shack for lunch. While this may seem extreme, maybe it’s time for a road trip.