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Lobster Tails vs. Claws- What’s the Difference

by Elizabeth Skipper | August 13th, 2014 | Ask the Chef
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lobsterWhenever I eat lobster with a group of people, personal preference on favorite part falls into two groups: tail or claw. However, I have noticed that one can buy tails individually at the fish counter but not claws.  Is there a reason for this?  Is lobster tail meat different, more delicate, better for cooking?

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I even thought about the difference between lobster tail and lobster claw meat. Someone asked me my preference, and I had to think about it. Until then, I’d just consumed as much of the beast as I could possibly remove from it (much to my husband’s embarrassment or annoyance, I was never sure which. He just ate the tail and the claws and left the rest, which to me is a shame.) Then I decided that the claws were more tender and maybe had a smidgeon of an advantage over the tails, and that although I’ve eaten tail meat made tough by bad cooking, it didn’t really matter to me.

The person who asked had a distinct preference for the claws. After receiving this inquiry via Think Tasty, I posed it to a friend who spends a great deal of time in Maine. He said that he hadn’t read “The Secret Life of Lobsters,” but then decided to give the question its due and admitted that while he finds the claws more tender, he doesn’t actually care for the texture. As for the purchasing question, he had no clue.

Without having quizzed a fishmonger, here’s my best guess as to why it’s possible to buy tails individually, but not claws. First, consider the cooking. Lobster tails can be broiled, grilled, or baked with good results. Less commonly, they can also be boiled – preferably within the shell – or removed and pan-fried. They can even (shudder) be microwaved, although it won’t be by me. There’s a goodly portion of meat in them, and it’s in an easy-to-cook form. Claws aren’t uniformly shaped, and won’t cook evenly. You could boil or steam them, but the other cooking methods I mentioned really wouldn’t work. So there’s not much versatility there.

Second, think of the edible portion to waste ratio. The claws are heavy in comparison to the amount of meat within. The tail shells, on the other hand, are thinner and lighter, so if you purchase a whole tail you get more lobster for your money. Would you pay the price of lobster for claws, and throw away what I’d guess would be 70% or more of your purchase? I think not.

There is another reason which just occurred to me. The spiny, or rock lobster, found in tropical and subtropical waters, doesn’t have the large claws our New England ones do. Most of the lobster tails sold are of that species. (Given that this didn’t occur to us right off, can you tell the lobster bias my friend and I have?) Now that I think about it, that’s probably the most likely answer to your question, but now you can consider a couple of other possibilities, too.

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