Clubs, cruises, restaurants, and, of course, Times Square are all options for welcoming the New Year in New York City. This year we decided to stay home and celebrate with one of our favorite feasts – Maine lobster. But a dilemma immediately presented itself: should we buy them from a nearby Manhattan market, especially with prices on the decline, or have them shipped from Mount Desert Island, our second home, and support the local lobstermen? We chose to do both and to conduct a side-by-side taste test in the process.
My tasting partner offered excellent credentials for this experiment. He is pragmatic, but also passionate about lobster, having commenced craving these crustaceans almost fifty years ago at camp clambakes and Lundy’s, the venerable seafood institution in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. I, on the other hand, a born-and-bred New Englander, have only been eating lobster with great regularity since I started spending so much time on MDI several years ago, but it’s been enough to cause me to eschew lobster at fancy New York restaurants even when somebody else is paying for it! It just has no taste. (I make an exception for Pearl’s lobster rolls.)
We started speculating about our taste test. If both of our lobsters are originally from Maine’s cold waters and we cook them at home with the same technique, shouldn’t the quality be close to equivalent? If there’s a difference, which will be more detrimental to the flavor, time spent in a shipping carton or in a tank of pseudo saltwater?
We began our research into retailers. Although my dad recently paid $4.95/lb. at his local New Hampshire supermarket, it was clear that we wouldn’t get anything near that price in New York City, despite the so-called lobster glut. Citarella on the Upper West Side was charging $12.99/lb. for larger lobsters and $9.99/lb. for smaller ones. Fairway, which seemed to be doing an incredible volume with everything over the holidays, charged $9.99/lb. for Maine lobster regardless of size. We went with Fairway.
For our MDI source, we chose H.R. Beal and Son in Southwest Harbor, a family business going back two generations that ships nationwide year-round. In fact, they’re open seven days a week and only close for Christmas. When I told Helen there what we were doing, she seemed to think we were nuts. The price for two lobsters from Beal’s was $81 because of packing materials and overnight freight. Thinking about the expense of those prix fixe dinners at New York restaurants, I forged ahead and ordered two to amortize the cost of shipping over more lobster meat, some of which we’d hold in reserve for lobster salad on New Year’s Day.
Our Beal’s lobsters arrived the next day, still active in their carton of wet newspapers after their Fed Ex journey, and our Fairway catch scratched away in his plastic bag. We carefully considered the pro’s and con’s of boiling vs. steaming, opting for the latter to preserve a little more flavor. The Maine Lobster Council also says that it’s harder to overcook a lobster with steaming. After careful timing and pouring more champagne, we were ready to taste. There was no doubt. The lobster express-shipped from Maine was distinctly sweeter.
If you plan two days in advance, Beal’s has another option for you. Until January 15th, Helen said, they’re offering a special of four 1-1/2 pounders, cooked and delivered, for $82. Since these lobsters are cooked in sea water, they are supposed to have even better flavor. You could invite some friends and do a taste test. Happy 2009.
For more information about Maine’s lobster pounds and planning a trip to Acadia National Park, visit OUR ACADIA, all about exploring, eating, and relaxing on Mount Desert Island.