It might sound strange to people who don’t live in the Florida Keys, but melting butter has become a seasonal hobby along the island chain. Early in August each year, local foodies start stocking up on the stuff — for a very good reason.
That’s because early August marks the start of the Keys’ annual commercial lobster season, and purists know those savory crustaceans taste best when each bite is bathed in butter.
If you’re a faithful reader, you may realize that Keys Voices covers this tantalizing topic practically every year. But let me assure you, this is not a mistake.
Instead, it’s a testament to the passion for lobster that’s practically an obsession for Keys residents. In fact, for dedicated area foodies, the start of lobster season generates more enthusiastic thanks-giving than the actual holiday of Thanksgiving does.
Florida Keys lobsters, BTW, are quite different than their northern cousins. For one thing, they don’t have claws (also called by the unappetizing name of “grapnels”). Instead, they’re known as spiny lobsters and their meat has a slightly chewy sweetness that’s absolutely unmistakable.
So how is this stellar seafood served? In households and restaurants from Key Largo to Key West, the most popular way to serve lobster is steamed, boiled or grilled with the aforementioned melted butter. Traditional trimmings include corn on the cob and boiled potatoes or potato salad.
It’s also possible to serve lobster with side dishes inspired by the Keys’ longstanding cultural connection with nearby Cuba. Black beans, yellow rice, Cuban bread and plantains are excellent accompaniments — along with melted butter, of course.
Speaking of butter, when you’re preparing lobster, make sure you melt a LOT of it (trust me, it will not go to waste). Some people add garlic or garlic salt during the melting process, and some add a spritz of Key lime or even grated Parmesan cheese.
But whatever your additions, ABSOLUTELY DO NOT skim off the white salty froth that forms when the butter reaches the bubbling point — the saltiness adds an extra zip to every buttery bite of luscious lobster.
While some Keys chefs are purists when it comes to the sensational crustacean, others prefer to top it with a light bread stuffing. Still others blend lobster meat with exotic sauces incorporating tropical fruits such as mango.
In reality, it’s hard to conceive of a lunch or dinner dish that wouldn’t taste better with lobster mixed into it. You’ll find Keys restaurant menus that feature lobster pot pie, lobster macaroni-and-cheese, breaded and fried lobster bites, lobster tacos and (for decadent breakfasts) even lobster eggs benedict. And DO NOT miss the stunningly good Lobster Reuben made famous by Marathon’s Keys Fisheries.
For maximum enjoyment, savor your lobster in one of our waterside seafood shacks or gourmet emporiums, while watching an orange-red sunset and sipping something tall and cool.
Or meander throughout the island chain on a self-designed “lobster quest,” sampling chefs’ crustacean creations at a variety of eateries.
But if you’re not lucky enough to be in the Keys right now, don’t despair. Instead, consider having Florida Keys lobster shipped from an area seafood market, and indulge your craving at home — while plotting your next island escape.