One of the big holiday food traditions in our house is a feed of lobster on Christmas Eve. We don’t get fancy – we just cover the table with newspaper and boil up the tasty crustaceans and serve them with melted butter and some potato salad.
While the season has ended in a number of places until spring, inshore lobster fishing is still taking place in southern Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Lobster fishing is always legal offshore, although purists prefer lobsters sourced closer to land, which means there is still lobster to be had – inexpensively.
Economic woes, particularly in the US, have adversely affected the Atlantic lobster fishery, both in the US and Canada. This means a decent retail price for consumers (normally about $14.99 a pound, lobster prices over the holidays dropped as low as $6.99 per pound in Toronto), but not such a great deal for lobster fishers who have the same costs to cover even though their profit is less. In Halifax this past December, lobster fishers were being offered a wholesale rate of $3 per pound and many boycotted sales to mainstream stores in favour of that traditional Nova Scotian sales method – setting up by the side of the road and selling the things out of the back of a truck. This at least allowed the fishers to charge a still inexpensive $5 per pound and to recoup their operating costs and turn a small profit.
This is not a practical option for selling lobster in Toronto, however, and we have no choice but to hand some money over to the middlemen and buy our lobster at an actual store, but with prices like these, it’s an opportunity that might not come along again for some time.
When purchasing lobster, live is always better. Look for active lobsters that put up a fuss when removed from the tank. If they’re floppy or not moving, take a pass. As lobsters do not have a central nervous system, it is believed by scientists that they do not feel pain so cooking them at home in a big pot of salted boiling water is preferable to purchasing precooked lobster that may have already begun to deteriorate. If you’re concerned, pop them into the freezer for a few hours before plunging them into the boiling water.
Store lobsters under a damp towel in a large bowl or bin the refrigerator for up to 3 days (where they will freak you out repeatedly with the weird little clicking noise they emit which makes it seem as if they’re planning an escape and are communicating in some seekrit lobster code), or in an empty sink if you’ll be cooking them with some immediacy. Do not store them in plastic bags or a closed bin – they need air to breathe! And don’t think you’re doing them a favour by filling the sink with fresh water, as this will kill them and make the meat unpleasant.
In Toronto lobster can be had from the following purveyors. I’ve not included prices, as they are subject to change, so calling ahead to check on price and availability is recommended.
Bill’s Lobster Fish Market
599 Gerrard Street East
302 Eglinton Avenue West (at Avenue Rd.)
Pisces Gourmet Seafood
1103 Yonge Street
50 Don Park Road, Unit 4, Markham
222 Cherry Street (and others)
St. Lawrence Market South
92 Front Street East
Vendors such as Domenic’s Fish Market, Mike’s Fish Market and Seafront Fish Market usually all have live and frozen lobster. Prices here tend to be higher than elsewhere, but bargains can be had at the end of day on Saturday.
Live lobster is also regularly available at most Metro and Sobey’s stores, and good deals can sometimes be had at the various supermarkets in Chinatown such as Lucky Moose (393 Dundas Street West) or Hua Long (253 Spadina Avenue).