Every time I go to Acadia National Park to hike, bike, and kayak, my vacation itinerary includes a trip to a lobster pound. OK, often two. So here, after much research, is the point-of-view of this New Yorker on the soft vs. hard shell lobster debate.
Here are the two sides. Fans of soft shell lobsters claim they are sweeter and easier to eat because they can be cracked by hand. Lovers of hard shells point to more meat and a firmer consistency.
Let’s draw on a little science about Homarus americanus. Lobsters shed their shells (or molt) throughout their lives. After they grow a new shell inside the old one, they drink a lot of water which expands their body size and infuses the new shell, causing it to expand and break the old one. The new shell is softer. While it hardens, there’s a layer of seawater that helps insulate the lobster’s body.
And, to me, that’s the insight. The seawater acts as kind of a secret marinating agent to make the meat of the soft shell lobster undeniably sweeter. It’s more tender and delectable.
So, if taste is your priority, order a soft shell. But keep in mind two other considerations. First, eating a soft shell lobster is a messier process. When you crack it open, be prepared for the torrent of “marinating liquid” to spew forth! The other negative is a soft shell will have relatively less meat for the same poundage. Lower prices will compensate for this, but you must remember to order a larger size. Thurston’s Lobster Pound on Mount Desert Island recommends at least a quarter of a pound more.
You are not likely to get a soft shell lobster in a New York restaurant or delivered by mail because hard shells are more durable for shipping. So, if you are on Mount Desert Island at the end of the summer, which is the molting season for that part of New England, the choice should be clear. A soft shell lobster is a special seasonal treat if you’re lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.
Mount Desert Island in Maine is home not only to Acadia National Park, but to harborside villages, charming inns, wonderful antiquing, and topnotch spas. Activities, especially hiking, biking, kayaking, and sailing, abound. And, since Maine is the state of both farmers and fishermen, the restaurants are great. To read about my favorites, including several lobster pounds, visit OUR ACADIA.