Foodie Friday: Giant Lobster Head

You’re probably familiar with lobster tails as a primo meal, perhaps even lobster claws. But have you ever eaten the head of a lobster?  Lots of people believe there’s no meat in the head of a lobster or it’s not good to eat. I beg to differ . . .

What Kind of Lobster Are We Talking About Anyway?

Although I call them “lobster,” the ones we eat around here are not the American/Maine lobster with the giant claws. These are more accurately called spiny lobster (a.k.a. Crawfish). Wikipedia and the Bahamas National Trust can educate you more.

This local lobster is hands-down my favorite food out of the sea.

In order to protect the breeding season and preserve lobster in abundance, the Bahamas has “open” and “closed” seasons in which it is legal or illegal to catch lobster (as well as size regulations and prohibitions against taking egg-bearing females). Lobster season opens August 1 and closes March 31 each year. On August 1, boatloads of people go out for the first catch of the season – usually a plentiful haul. Right now, as the season draws to a close, people will treasure the last days of the month in hopes of stocking up some lobster for the freezer to tide us over until August.

Lobster is caught differently in different parts of the world: traps, ticklers, nets, spearguns, etc.  Here, guys (and gals) go out “diving” for lobster. That’s shorthand for free-diving (flippers, snorkel and mask, lots of holding breath) and spear-fishing (long spear on a rubber sling, a.k.a. Hawaiian Sling).  In the Bahamas, it is illegal to hunt with spearguns or scuba tanks, although the use of a compressor is allowed for Bahamians only, but is still controversial.

For a detailed description of local diving and lots of pictures of the lobster and fish right out of the sea, you can revisit my prior post on this.  You can also see more of the fish-cleaning, which includes separating lobster tails from heads, in this brief video.

Waste Not, Want Not

So, today’s Foodie post focuses on lobster heads.  Why are we even discussing heads? Isn’t the best meat in the tail?  Well, yes, perhaps, but islanders waste very little. Just like fish heads, pig feet, sheep tongue, etc., there are culinary uses for nearly every part of a creature.

Lobster heads, in my opinion, are one of the tastier “extra” parts!

Usually, the average size lobster heads look something like these photos I took last year down by the local fish-cleaning area:

Lobster head close-up.

Lobster head close-up.

 

Lobster head, raw meat already extracted.

Lobster head, raw meat already extracted.

Because it is labor-intensive to extract the meat from the head and legs of a lobster, people often just throw them away (e.g., toss into the sea). Locally, the divers will often give away the heads to other locals. People are willing to exert extra effort for a free meal!

After a long day of diving, Beau usually gives away the heads/legs and just brings home the tails for us to cook.

This day, however, the head was so huge that he made an exception . . .

Giant Lobster Head

Beau had not actually been diving this day. However, he often goes by his fisherman/diver buddies after work to see what they’ve caught on any given day and to help clean fish. On this particular day in the middle of the week some weeks ago, Beau came home and headed straight into the kitchen, with Angel dancing excitedly around him.

I followed him to see what was going on. This is the image that greeted me:

Giant lobster head - fresh from the sea.

Giant lobster head – fresh from the sea.

A giant lobster head! With giant lobster legs! And we were about to cook it up!

Steaming the Giant Lobster Head

Out of the pantry and onto the stove came a giant pot, filled with just a small amount of tap water for steaming the head.

Giant lobster pot.

Giant lobster pot.

When the water came to a boil, the lobster head was lowered into it. This was harder than it sounds because it involved having to fold those long legs under the head. Beau’s tough hands handled this better than mine in close proximity to the boiling water, so I was happy to be in charge of the camera.

Into the pot!

Into the pot!

In order to hold the head together – and prevent the meat from spilling out – Beau had tied the head with a palm frond.

Tied up securely.

Tied up securely.

I apologize that I no longer remember exactly how long we steamed the lobster head (not much of a “recipe” in this Foodie Friday post!!), but it cooked until the head turned red and the meat turned white and firm.

Beau deemed it ready, and pulled it out of the pot.

Whoa, big daddy lobster staring me down.

Whoa, big daddy lobster staring me down.

It’s so huge! And those eyes!  Imagine this face looking at the end of your spear coming at it underwater, and that’s business as usual for our divers.

Truly giant lobster head!

Side view of the beast. A truly giant lobster head!

We set it aside to let it cool. Of course, we couldn’t resist breaking off a few legs and sucking the meat out of them! However, we already had dinner plans, so the rest would wait until the next day.

Extracting the Meat from the Giant Lobster Head

The next day, I removed the giant head/legs which had been shoved bundled into the refrigerator overnight. Spreading across my kitchen counter, I proceeded to make a mess – thus the lack of accompanying pictures for this part!

I pulled off all of the legs from the head and laid them in a pile. One by one, I took each leg and extracted the meat. When you’re doing this freshly steamed, it’s easier cuz you can pull it with your teeth and suck the meat out. Not so when I’m preparing it to share with others! 🙂 I snapped each leg at the joints and twisted and pulled. Most came out easily. A few needed cut (kitchen scissors) around the edges to loosen them. I cleaned off any “dark stuff,” rinsed the whole pile and set it aside.

Next was to tackle the head. After undoing the palm frond tie, it fell apart, so I just started taking chunks of meat and cleaning them off and setting them aside. When I got into the thick of the goo, I scraped it into a small bowl.

Lobster head goo (tomalley).

Lobster head goo (tomalley).

(Yeah, I know, it doesn’t look very appetizing.)

I believe this goo is more rightly called tomalley.  According to Wikipedia, tomalley serves function as liver and pancreas. It is greenish in color in the raw lobster but has darkened here upon cooking.  My own research shows that this can have toxins in it, but typically not at dangerous levels. All I know is that Beau told me to save it!

Again, islanders waste nothing. Moreover, this is considered a delicacy. It has an intense flavor and is used to boost flavor and thicken sauces, soups and stews.  It’s currently sitting in my freezer until it is called upon for such purpose.

After setting aside the goo, I rinsed and cleaned the remaining pieces of the head. Most of the meat pulled away from the shell, but I had to cut and work at it in parts.

Finally, I was done. As Beau knew, this lobster head was full of meat, and I amassed quite a pile:

Who says there's no meat in a lobster head?!

Who says there’s no meat in a lobster head?!

I will observe that I found the meat to be slightly softer or grainier than the typical meat from lobster tails. While still quite tasty, it had a slightly different texture. I decided that I would use it for lobster salad or other dishes, rather than eating it straight up with melted butter/lime/garlic, per usual. I bagged up portion sizes in ziplock bags and plopped them in the freezer for later.

The legs, on the other hand, are perfect for dunking in butter/lime/garlic. I bagged up most of them for future treats, but kept a small portion out for us to snack on that day, warmed up and dripping with melted butter. Mmmm.

Snack time!

Snack time!

And there you have it! Steaming a giant lobster head will provide lots of tasty meat for delicious meals and snacks for days to come!

What did you think of this? Have you ever eaten lobster head meat or lobster legs? What about tomalley? Are you adventurous enough to try it?

Have a fabulous weekend!

10 Responses to Foodie Friday: Giant Lobster Head

  • bahamasdread says:

    That was a great write up on how to tackle the lobster head and turn it into a real treat. In my house we’ve been eating the meat out of the lobster head, since I was a little kid. It wasn’t until I visited the US did I realize other people only ate the tails, even in home preparation cases. But oh, it’s so delicious. I can’t wait to see what you tackle for next Friday.

    • Dawn says:

      Thanks, Fabian! As a Bahamian, you know your stuff on this front, so I’m glad you liked the post. Hmmm, I’m hungry now and craving some tuna-n-grits. That’s bound to be a post one of these Foodie Fridays…

  • We save the legs from the really big ones and eat them just like you showed in your last pic with the steamed meat and butter. Yum! But I’m not too sure we can wrestle one of those huge heads into a pot in the galley of our boat. I applaud your efforts in honoring the whole, beautiful lobster! Thanks for sharing the process!

    • Dawn says:

      Thanks for commenting, Debi! Yes, it could be daunting in a small galley, but I’m confident in your sailorgirl skills. 🙂 Reading your comment made me hungry for legs in butter all over again!

  • Fascinating! I found your post through Heather Fiore – our sons are in kindergarten together!

    • Dawn says:

      Thanks, Christine! Very sweet of you (and Heather). I’m especially delighted that you commented because I was able to check out your website. Looks interesting and I’ll dig in deeper soon!

  • cariborbust says:

    Wow! That was a HUGE lobster head! Impressive! I found your detailed description of the cooking and dismantling of it to be really interesting – it reminded me (sort of) of picking meat from blue crabs that are common up here in the Washington DC area during the summer. Good thing to not let this massive lobster head go to waste! Thanks for sharing!

    • Dawn says:

      Thanks cariborbust (Patty), so glad you liked the post! I haven’t had blue crabs but know people love them. I suppose a little less time-consuming since they’re smaller – but then you have to do more of them for a full belly! 🙂 Thanks for commenting.

  • OMG Dawn, I am literally drooling over here. Can hardly wait til July when we take our annual trip to Abaco. There’s nothing like lobster and crab straight from the Sea. Great post!

    • Dawn says:

      Thanks so much, Linda! I’m actually cooking with some of the leftover lobster head tonight. Likely to be an upcoming post. 😉 Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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