Shellfish lovers: the commercial season for spiny lobsters opens today! Recreational divers and sport fishermen got a head start, literally grabbing bugs by hand from our local waters since last Saturday. Those of us less inclined to make like Steve Irwin and dive for our own catch can buy them from some of our waterfront fish markets until the season ends on March 16, 2011.
There's a few differences between Pacific spiny lobsters and North Atlantic lobsters. They have no claws, but bigger tails. The meat can be a little firmer, but also sweeter in flavor, depending on who you ask. As with any shellfish, the key is to not overcook the meat. The myth that bigger lobsters are tougher than smaller ones is a lie to cover up poor cooking technique.
Prices will fluctuate during the first few weeks until the market settles on a fair price. In past years,they've sold at $25 / pound or so, with the smallest legal lobsters weighing in around 1 1/4 pounds. As a reference point, Maine lobsters were selling for $7.99 / pound at Irvine's 99 Ranch Market this weekend.
What's that? You just want to be the judge and not the executioner? Some fish markets will also cook your lobsters for you. Seafood this fresh should be enjoyed simply - steamed, boiled, grilled, perhaps even raw as sashimi. The following waterfront fish markets will sell you truly local lobsters that were caught just hours before, and a few will also cook them for you.
In Dana Point Harbor, Jon's Fish Market will sell you live lobsters to take home for $23.95 a pound, and boil or grill them for you to eat on site. General Manager Megan Fitzgerald says that their lobstermen work the waters from San Clemente to Laguna Beach.
Jon's Fish Market 34665 Golden Lantern St Dana Point, CA; (949) 496-2807
Set back on a side street off of Coast Highway, Pearson's Port Fish Market sits on a floating dock on Newport's Back Bay. They do not cook seafood on site. Chuck Pearson says that their spiny lobsters are caught in waters around Newport and Laguna Beach, and the price, today anyway, is $19.99 a pound.
Pearson's Port 100 E Coast Hwy, Newport Beach; (949) 675-6771
I only saw only one fisherman working this rainy morning at Newport Beach Dory Fleet fish market. It's a co-operative of independent fishermen based at the Newport Beach Pier, and each boat specializes in different catches. Ara Kara of Live Fish Company shrugged at today's poor weather and water conditions as he prepared their sablefish rigs for this weekend. He expects the two boat owners in the co-op who specialize in crabs and lobsters to be selling later in the week.
The fishermen return with their early morning catch between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., and sell directly to the public until it's gone (read: show up early). They do not cook anything on site. Weekends are the best days because the entire fleet should be working. Sometimes, like today, they don't go fishing at all. But if you wanted a sure thing, you'd be buying frozen jumbo prawns raised on a farm in the Philippines and not wild, local sea creatures.
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Newport Beach Dory Fleet 2111 W. Oceanfront, Newport Beach; www.doryfleet.com
In Long Beach, Berth 55 Fish Market will sell you live bugs, and serve them steamed or grilled. Their fishermen didn't bring back any lobsters today either, but they plan on selling starting tomorrow. No prices quoted at the time this was written.
Berth 55 Fish Market 555 Pico Avenue, Long Beach, (562) 435- 8366; www.berth55fishmarket.com
That's a list of waterfront fish markets in Orange County confirmed to sell local lobsters, and there might be others as you move inland. In past years, I've seen spiny lobsters for sale in Little Saigon live seafood markets (such as T&K Food Warehouse) but I haven't been able to verify any that intend to carry them this year. If you spot any clawless spiny lobsters, let's hear about it in the comments section!