How to Shell a Whole Maine Lobster
Simple Instructions and Important Tips for Shelling a Soft Shell Maine Lobster
A "must do" for many visitors to Vacationland is eating lobster. They envision a steamed whole Maine lobster, a cup of melted butter, and a bib.
When the uninitiated finally get that delicious crustacean placed in front of them, their response varies from pause to panic. 'What the heck am I supposed to do with that thing?' They went searching for live lobster and they wanted whole Maine lobster, they just hadn't thought about how they were going to get it out of the shell once it was cooked. The lobsters don't come with directions, pull tabs, or tear away strips.
Let me help you. In the video above and the step-by-step directions below, I'll show you how to get the tender white meat where you want it; on your plate, not in the shell.
By following my directions and my tips, you'll be able to quickly and easily get the shell off of your cooked lobster.
Tip: Shelling and Eating Lobster is MESSY! That is why they give you bibs.
Proceed at your own risk without one. Butter stains don't come out of nice clothes very easily.
Step #1 Get A Cooked Lobster
This step sounds obvious but, first you have to get a Maine lobster and it has to be cooked.
Hungry travelers often want the authentic Maine experience of a lobster pound. "What is a Lobster Pound?", click to find out! Or, check out "My Favorite Maine Lobster Pounds" to locate that perfect lobster just right for you.
Feeling ambitious, many want to cook the lobster on their own. They may steam it or have their own lobster bake with family and friends. Randomcreative can show you how to do it "Cooking Live Lobsters: How to have a Lobster Party".
Tip: Get a 1 1-1/4 Soft Shell Lobster!
In general, the larger the lobster, the tougher the meat. Yes, there is more meat in larger lobsters but, hard shell lobsters and, to some degree, even larger soft shell ones, can be much harder to crack open.
Lately, the price of a 1 to 1 1/4 pound soft shell lobster in Maine is cheap (about $4.00/pound). If you want more lobster, buy 2 or 3 small ones!
Step #2: Get Your Tools Together
To shell a lobster you should have:
- Lobster fork
- Regular fork
- Plate for the lobster
- Bowl for waste scraps
- Paper towels
- Newspaper covering a nice table.
- Lobster bib
Tip: For a small soft shell lobster, I often don't need more than my hands, a bowl, and a regular fork.
I occasionally need crackers but, have never needed a knife or other instrument to cut the shell. I have occasionally used a knife to cut up the lobster, but most of the time, lobster is like the other white meat; chicken. Hands are often all that are needed.
Step #3: Seperate the Tail and the Claws from the Body
It is easy to snap the tail and the claws off of the body. While there may be a small amount of meat in the body and the little walking legs, in my opinion, the effort isn't worth the return. Just throw the body and the attached walking legs away.
The green paste between the body and the tail is the tomalley (digestive gland). For some, the tomalley is a delicacy. But, since it removes some toxins from the lobster, it may not be the healthiest part of the lobster to eat.
Tip: Unless you want a lot of water on the plate with your food, shell the lobster over the bowl for scraps. There is a lot of water inside the lobster shell, particularly soft shell lobsters. Remove the tail and claws over the bowl and NOT your plate. Crack the shells of the claws open over the bowl. Let the water drain into the bowl rather than onto your plate.
Step #4: Remove the Meat from the Tail
This is much easier than you may expect. First, remove the flippers from the tail. Then, insert the handle of a fork in the hole where the flippers were. Run the handle along the back (dorsal side) inside the shell. As the fork handle is advanced into the shell, the tail meat will be pushed out of the large opening on the other side. The tail meat comes out quickly and intact.
Tip: You may want to clean the tomalle off of the tail meat.
Step #5: Remove the Sand Vein from the Tail Meat
Just deep to the dorsal surface (back) of the tail meat is a sand vein (the intestine). This is the lobster's waste and it should be removed. You could use a knife to cut down to the sand vein, but I find it just as easy to pull off the strip of meat over it (save the strip of meat, it is edible).
The sand vein can be thick or thin, orangish or greenish brown (or both). Sometimes the sand vein comes off with the strip of meat you pull off, sometimes it stays with the rest of the tail meat. Pull the sand vein out making sure to get all of it. Occasionally, a fork or a lobster fork can be used to get the sand vein out or to open up the last portion to get it all.
Step #6: Get the Meat out of the Claws
This is a multi-step process, but easy to do.
- Mr. Obvious says, 'remove the rubber band from each claw'.
- Detach the arm from the claw.
- Hold the claw in one hand and grab the moveable portion with your other hand. In a firm, smooth motion, pull the moveable portion down and away from the other portion until the moveable portion comes off at the hinge. The meat of this portion will usually remain attached. If not, be sure to get the meat out of the detached shell.
- The remainder of the claw can often be cracked open with your fingers. If not, use the cracker to break the shell and get the claw meat out.
- The arm portion of the claw can also often be cracked with your fingers. Small, sharp, spine-like parts on the shell can make this difficult or even painful to do with your hands. The cracker may have to be used here.
Grab the Butter. It is Time to Eat!
The meat is out! It is time to grab the melted butter and enjoy the fruits of your labor. If you don't want to dip it in butter, other options include using the meat in a lobster roll, making a lobster salad, or use it in any number of other great lobster recipes.
For Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Maine Lobsters:
- Gulf of Maine Research Institute: Lobsters
Learn All About Lobsters: History, boats, life cycle, even how to eat them!
© 2012 Mark Shulkosky