Lobster, specifically cold-water American lobster, are found in the Atlantic Ocean all the way north of Newfoundland to the Carolinas, the vast majority coming from Canada and New England. This is the type of lobster you generally see in restaurants, as well as grocery stores and specialty fish markets. Warm-water lobster tails, also called Caribbean lobster, are also a staple in many grocery stores, but the flavor isn’t nearly as good as their northern cousins, and given the choice, most opt for North Atlantic lobster or Maine lobster over their southern cousins. As for spiny lobster—sometimes called rock lobster—the clawless species are harvested off Florida’s coast, in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Caribbean, and can be found on menus in the southern states when in season. And though American lobsters are not native to the Pacific, there is a California spiny lobster—the demand, however, is small here in the U.S. and most are exported so it’s unlikely you will ever come across one in the store or restaurant.
To purchase live lobster, look for ones with a curled tail and pick those that are active in the tank. Lobster is best broiled, steamed, baked, or grilled. Lobster tails should be steamed one minute for every ounce. So a four-ounce tail takes four minutes in the pot. For whole, live lobster, steam 13 to15 minutes for a one to one-and-a-half-pound lobster; 17 to 18 minutes for a two-pounder. As for the tomalley, yes, some people do eat it. I don’t. And I wouldn’t recommend it—tomalley is actually the lobster’s liver and pancreas and therefore, carries the creature's waste. Enough said.
Crawfish run rampant throughout the U.S. with more than 300 varieties found everywhere from rivers and lakes to smaller tributaries and even swamplands. Also known as crawdad or crayfish, they are the smaller cousin to lobster and average three to seven inches in length. Right around 90 percent of all farmed and wild-caught crawfish come from Louisiana—no wonder crawfish boils are so popular in the South! The nutritional value is similar to lobster as are cooking methods; the most common being boiled in large pots with Creole seasoning. They’re also great in etouffeé and jambalaya. When purchasing live crawfish to cook at home, similar to lobster, they should be active and have a tail that curls when cooked.
Crab is easily considered a delicacy and a special treat for many, yet most have tried it at least once. The species you’ve more than likely had is often dependent on where you reside, as different crab hail from different coastlines. The most common types of crab in the U.S. are Dungeness, snow, blue, stone, and king.
Dungeness crab is a West Coast staple and is sold live up and down the coast but often times can be found stored over ice in specialty stores throughout the country. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on one that’s been previously frozen, boil it for about 20 minutes then immediately dunk into cold water to stop the cooking process.
Snow crab is found in the Bering Sea and is readily available in the frozen section of most supermarkets—just be sure to look for the bluefish seal from the Marine Stewardship Council before purchasing. Cook as directed on the package, but typically they’re best when steamed or boiled.
Blue crab is commonly seen in restaurants, sometimes as hard shells, sometimes as soft shells. A soft shell blue crab is one that’s been harvested before molting, hence the softness. Lots of restaurants and pubs fry them, shell included, in a sandwich.
Stone crab is caught in the south Atlantic and warm Gulf waters. They’re a highly regulated species as legally only the claws can be harvested. Fishermen remove the front two claws, then return the crabs to the water where they regenerate.
King crab is probably the most sought after, thanks in part to their flavor, but also to the huge success of the TV show, Deadliest Catch. Caught in the Bering Sea, this cold-water species can have a leg span of up to six feet—so unlike many smaller crab species, you don’t need many legs to fill up. When cooking the legs at home, it’s best to steam them in a large pot, but if you don’t have one try this: put water on a deep cookie sheet, cover it with a rack and place crab legs on the rack. Place in a hot oven and let steam for about 20 minutes. Be careful taking it out as the water is boiling. Serve with a little bit of drawn butter and a smile. Enjoy!
"Shrimp" not "shrimps," not ever—the word “shrimp” itself is both singular and plural, so please, don’t ever say “shrimps.” (Lucky you, you get to learn about crustaceans and have a grammar lesson, too!) There are hundreds of different species of shrimp, both saltwater and freshwater. But the most common varieties throughout the U.S.—ordered in restaurants and cooked at home—are Gulf, rock, pink, black tiger, and Pacific white.
Gulf shrimp are found up and down the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, from Southern Florida to the Yucatan. Gulf shrimp are not farmed (yet) and can be nearly 10 inches in length from tail to head. There are brown, pink, and white Gulf shrimp.
Rock shrimp are much smaller than Gulf shrimp and are best suited for adding to dishes rather than on their own. Great for salads, to top off pizzas, or tossed into pasta.
Pink shrimp are found in the North Atlantic, the North Pacific, and in many other waters throughout the continent. Pink shrimp are about half the size of Gulf shrimp, and like rock shrimp, are best suited for add-ons rather than as a main course.
Tiger shrimp, aka giant tiger prawns, are the largest of the species and are excellent grilled. Most of the tigers you see in the U.S. (restaurants and grocery stores) come from Asia.
Pacific white shrimp are excellent in shrimp cocktail, or cooked “peel and eat” style. Nearly everyone who’s ever had shrimp has eaten this variety as it is the most widely harvested variety in the world.
A rose is a rose, but is a shrimp a shrimp? A prawn a prawn? And what exactly is scampi?
Here in the U.S., most people call small and medium shrimp, “shrimp” and refer to the larger, jumbo variety as “prawns” or even “scampi.” But many purists insist the term “prawn” should only be used when referencing the Dublin Bay prawn, also known as langoustine. However, the species isn’t found in Dublin Bay, rather, they live off Ireland’s west coast, as well as the Irish and Celtic Seas. Unlike shrimp, langoustine have pincer claws—similar to lobster only much smaller—and are almost always cooked in their shells with heads intact. Stateside, they’re rarely found in grocery stores or even specialty fish markets, but they are served in a few upscale, American restaurants.
As for scampi, in Italy, they call Dublin Bay prawns “scampi,” and other shrimp, simply “shrimp.” But in both Canada and the U.S., the term “scampi” is generally associated with a specific dish; jumbo or giant shrimp (aka prawns) sauteed with garlic and butter, sometimes tossed with pasta. So what is the ever-popular dish “shrimp scampi”? Depending on where you are, “shrimp scampi” could be considered a redundancy as it’s a bit like ordering “chai tea” as the word “chai” means "tea" in Indian. But to each their own. Because asa rose is still a rose by any other name, shrimp scampi is still delicious no matter if it’s being made with shrimp or prawns.