|Fresh-steamed Lobster ready to serve|
Blount Small Ship Cruise Experiences has been sailing out Rhode Island for over 50 years
It's one of cruisers' biggest obsessions - the lobster dinner. There was a time when every cruise ship served lobster for dinner at least one dinner per cruise - usually on the night of the "Captain's Party" where the master of the vessel greeted every guest.
I have had many lobster meals on cruise ships. Surprisingly, one of the best was on a 100,000-ton-plus cruise ship in the middle of the Mediterranean. It was in a premium restaurant on a Princess ship, and even in that venue, I had to pay an extra $10 to have the lobster (making the total $35). But it was delicious because the ship and the chef had the means to keep the meat flavorful and steamed it to perfection. Since then I have searched for equally satisfying lobster dinners without much success, on land and at sea.
But just last night I had my ultimate lobster experience - the best lobster, as fresh as possible, cooked to perfection, and as much as I wanted. I am on board the Grande Caribe, a small ship belonging to Blount Small Ship Adventures, currently wrapping up a two week cruise along the coasts of Maine and Massachusetts. Two days ago we stopped in Rockport, the lobster "capital" of Maine and arguably the world; the town where most of the Maine lobsters are caught and collected for shipping around the world.
According to Sam Ladley, the most knowledgeable onboard lecturer for Blount who has spent most of his life in and around the fishing industry in Maine, almost 40% of the world's servings of whole lobsters come from Maine. Other types of lobster dishes; tails only, lobster chowder or Newberg, are often close but slightly different species from Maine lobsters, usually used for their tails only, but as Sam notes - the finest meat is actually found in the claws and arm, not in the tail.
In Rockport the ship staff picked up enough live lobster to stuff every passenger to the gills. Even better, on board are several members of the Blount family, New Englanders going back of several generations (the line is based in Rhode Island) and even some of their friends, and so the cooks were more than careful to follow the proper preparation of Maine Lobsters.
First, a large pit was filled with glowing embers to supply the heat. On top of that was a layer of fresh seaweed, several inches deep, to provide a constant source of briny steam to make the meat of the lobster tender and juicy. On top of that were placed small potatoes, clams, mussels and a few extras. Naturally, it took several hours of steaming to get everything to the proper state.
This was, by far, the best, most satisfying lobster I have ever eaten. The key is the freshness - a lobster must be alive when you start to cook it to prevent the spawning of certain toxins that start to develop in dead seafood (the same is true for clams, mussels and oysters). The only alternative is to have the fish flash frozen from a live state.
I also believe steaming is extremely important - since it is very easy to overcook lobster and make it rubbery, although some people prefer to boil them. By the way - lobster do not scream when they are put into a kettle of water - that is the sound of pressurized steam escaping from inside the tight shell of the arthropod.
What is an arthropod? It is a creature with ten legs. A lobster technically has eight legs for moving along plus the two claws, but the claws are actually just adapted legs. If the lobster had eight legs in total it would technically be in the spider family, but a 10-legged creature is a grasshopper. And in fact, there is not much difference between the tiny grasshopper and the lobster. The large, delicious sea-dwelling crustacean also has an exoskeleton with almost no nervous system at all, including just very tiny lobes that only hint at the possibility of having any kind of brain at all. Inside there are no blood vessels, just fluid and muscle, and the "green stuff" you may have seen in the middle which is actually the liver.
The locals are well aware of the genealogy of the lobsters - I saw a pub called "The Grasshopper," and our onboard lecturer, Sam, told us that lobster fisherman often call them "bugs."
They may be bugs, but they are the kind of bugs you want to eat. Lately many mainstream cruise lines have switched to offering other species which may be called lobsters by many people, but in fact they are much different from Maine lobsters, and in some cases are actually closer to prawns (large shrimp) than lobsters.
Some of the other styles of "lobster" include: Caribbean lobster (technically a lobster, but with small claws and smaller tail), Langoustine (more common in Europe) which in the trade are referred to as "squat lobster and rock lobsters," which are neither true lobsters nor prawns, but which are more closely related to the crayfish family.
You just can't beat the taste of freshly steamed lobster. The meat we had was succulent, juicy and tender, especially in the claws. Of course, you still need the hot drawn butter, but if you are worried, it is actually the butter which makes lobster dinner a less-than-healthy meal - the animal itself is not high in fats or cholesterol.
Bottom line - I have been on luxury ships and other lines that boast of serving fresh Maine lobster, but if what you are seeking on a cruise is a real lobster orgy of red claws and a hot piece of tail, I cannot recommend anything more highly than Blount Small Ship Adventures, the line that has been operating out of Rhode Island for three generations now.