Attention, crustacean fans: Thursday, Aug. 6, marks the start of the Florida Keys lobster season.
Given their location surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, the Keys are a paradise for lovers of fish and seafood. And topping the list of seafood standouts is the native lobster — often called spiny lobster.
These lobsters aren’t just prized as a delicacy for diners; they also make a lucrative harvest for the island chain’s commercial fishermen. According to the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association, more than 80 percent of the spiny lobster harvested in Florida is caught in the Keys area.
Some people are surprised to find that, unlike the northern variety, Keys lobsters are clawless. But unless diners are clueless, once they bite into the sweet and tender meat of the tail, they won’t pine for the pincers.
The most popular way to serve the sensational crustacean is grilled with melted butter or — like its Maine cousin — steamed or boiled. While traditional northern trimmings might include boiled potatoes and corn on the cob, it’s not unusual to find Keys lobster paired with Cuban black beans and yellow rice.
Some area chefs prepare lobster stuffed and broiled, while others blend lobster meat with exotic sauces incorporating tropical fruits like mango. It’s possible to start the day with a luscious Lobster Benedict at some creative local eateries (Blue Heaven, anyone?) — and hardly anyone can resist the amazing Lobster Reuben at Keys Fisheries in Marathon.
Or plan ahead to attend next summer’s Key West Lobsterfest celebration. Scheduled Aug. 12-15, 2021, it includes a street fair featuring luscious lobster offerings that range from appetizers to full dinners.
Even if you’re not traveling any time soon, you can still satisfy your crustacean cravings. It’s simple to have spiny lobster shipped from a Keys fish market to prepare at home and savor.
Here’s a simple yet stellar recipe that, hopefully, will allow you to do just that.
Grilled Lobster Tails (Serves 4)
Ingredients: 1/4 cup olive oil • 1 tablespoon Key lime juice • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest • 1 teaspoon dried tarragon • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper • 4 spiny lobster tails (about 8 ounces each)
Preparation: Make the marinade four hours before grilling by combining the first five ingredients in a large bowl. Set aside.
Cut the lobster tails lengthwise through the meat but not the shell. Open each shell to expose the meat. Add the tails to the marinade and coat well. Cover and refrigerate for two to three hours.
To grill, remove the tails from the marinade. Insert a metal skewer through each tail lengthwise to keep it from curling. Grill over high heat, three to four inches from the heat source, for five minutes per side — or until the shell is red and the meat is opaque white.
Remove the tail from the skewer. Use a knife or meat scissor to cut the tail in half lengthwise through the shell.
Serve with a fresh salad, some crusty Cuban bread and plenty of melted butter — and, for an additional island touch, add a generous spritz of Key lime juice to the butter.