How to Buy Lobster Tails & Not Get Ripped Off
Are thinking about buying some frozen lobster tails to make a special meal for your spouse or loved one? Whether you serve them alone or with a steak (Surf & Turf), you will want to read this article so you don't spend more than you have to for an inferior product.
And if you are thinking about buying live Maine Lobsters, read my article on How to Buy Live Main Lobsters & Not Get Ripped Off.
Just imagine sitting down to the table after working hard to put this fabulous meal together and one of the lobster tails is "bad".
How disappointing! And it can happen if you don't choose your tails correctly.
Thinking about making a special meal for my incredible wife, I went on-line to do some research on lobster tails and see what was available. I had no idea how little I know about them or what to choose. Warm water, cold water, rock lobster, spiny, Australian, Caribbean. Where did all these choices come from?
So I called my friends at a popular lobster company. These guys have been in the lobster business for a long time and have a huge selection of live Maine lobsters and lobster tails from around the world.
Clawed or Unclawed?
Most of us think of live Maine lobsters with those two large, meaty claws when we think of lobsters. You buy them live in many supermarkets today or have them sent to you via the Internet. If a Maine lobster is missing a claw, it is called a "cull".
Spiny lobsters, also called Rock Lobster, have no claws but hard shells and very long antennae. They come from both warm and cold water climates and are the most the source for frozen lobster tails.
There are more than 40 species of clawless lobsters found around the world. They can grow as large as 15 pounds but most range from 1 to 5 pounds.
When I asked Chef Lee Lippert why they don't sell the tails from Maine lobsters, he told me they are just too expensive. The Maine lobster outgrows their tail meat after they reach one pound so the bigger the lobster, the less tail meat.
In a one pound lobster, there is about 6 ounces of meat in a Maine Lobster tail but 7 ½ ounces in a New Zealand claw-less tail.
Warm Water or Cold?
When it comes to lobster tails, the first and most likely the most important decision you will make is whether to buy warm water or cold water tails. Warm water tails come mainly from Florida, the Caribbean and Latin America with big suppliers from Cuba and Nicaragua. Cold water tails generally come from Maine, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
According to Chef Lee, 1 out of 5 warm water tails that he handled while in the restaurant business were bad. What does he mean by bad?
- The tail stays mushy after being cooked.
- It doesn't firm up.
- The tail firms up but falls apart easily.
- It has an ammonia odor.
What was his experience with cold water lobster tails?
Over his 25 year experience and having cooked more than 10,000 lobsters, he figures he only had 5 bad ones. That's some difference. It tells me if you want to avoid a disappointment when making a special diner, you want to buy cold water tails.
Yes, you will pay more for cold water tails. Lee figures it's about a $5.00 difference per pound but I think of it as buying an insurance policy. It will end up costing a lot more if you end up throwing one of the tails away besides ruining a beautiful dinner.
How can you tell the difference between warm water and cold water tails?
- Ask before you buy. You want to know specifically if they are from water water or cold and where they were caught. If you fish provider doesn't know, stay away.
- Check their shells. Caribbean warm water tails have distinct yellow spots and a yellow band across the tail. Australian tails don't have these markings.
Quality and Taste Differences
There is a definite difference in taste and quality between warm and cold water tails. The cold water tails have whiter meat and are considered more tender because they grow more slowly in colder water. Most people will tell you the more expensive cold water tails also have a cleaner taste.
How to buy frozen lobster tails
- Buy from a reputable source like the sources mentioned below.
- If you see lobster tails at some unbelievable price, they most likely are warm water tails or you will pay for what you get.
- If they are not marked warm water or cold water and no place of origin given, assume they are warm water tails.
- If you see discoloration in the flesh, especially black spots, figure they were not handled properly.
- If the tail has a grayish color, it is a sign the lobster wasn't alive during processing.
- Any signs of yellowing or dull meat should be avoided.
- Ask your fish purveyor if the tails have been soaked in sodium tripoyphosphate prior to freezing. If it has, don't buy them.
- Look out for "glazing". This is when water is injected between the meat and the shell before freezing. It adds up to 20% additional weight to the tail so you pay more for less. Typically only done to warm water tails to protect during storage.
- The best time of year to buy lobsters is during the winter when prices tend to be lower.