I Died and Went to Lobster Heaven in Portland, Maine
From fishing with lobstermen to sampling new shell lobster, a trip to Portland in the summer is a seafood-lovers dream come true
This summer, I headed to the land of lobster, Portland Maine, to find out how my favorite food goes from the bottom of the ocean to my tabletop. Lucky for me, I made it just in time for New Shell Lobster Season—Portland’s best kept secret—which typically runs from June to mid-fall.
If you live outside of Maine, chances are the surf served beside your turf is actually hard shell lobster (and it’s friggin delicious). But ask any New Englander and they will tell you that new shell lobster actually tastes sweeter and juicier.
This is because lobsters shed their shell almost every year, and as they grow into their new shells, there’s room for the ocean water to penetrate and tenderize the meat. It’s as if the lobster is marinating in fresh ocean water.
Visitors to Portland can do a side-by-side comparison of both new shell and hard shell lobster at The Clam Shack, which straddles the Kennebunk River in nearby Kennebunkport. The Clam Shack is famous for its lobster rolls, which are assembled from saltwater-boiled, one-pound lobsters on a fresh baked roll. (The fried haddock here is the true standout in my book, so try to save some room.)
In Portland, even the salads are packed with lobster, and Scales restaurant does not hold back. Its dressed lobster tail salad is served on a bed of frisee, alongside chunks of grapefruit and crispy sunchokes. I loved the chef’s take on the traditional lobster roll, using hot drawn butter, homemade mayo, chives and pickles. Scales, located on Maine Wharf, is also a dreamy spot for sunset cocktails.
Eventide Oyster Co. takes the crown for the best lobster roll in town IMHO. Its signature brown butter lobster roll is served on a Chinese-style steamed bun—a pillowy texture that gives into each bite, allowing the flavor and density of lobster to come through. You also don’t want to miss its rich lobster stew, made with coconut green curry and maitake mushrooms.
The lobster served at Portland’s seaside restaurants are caught sustainably, by the hands of local lobstermen. And, right out of the Portlandia playbook, we headed to the stomping grounds of our lobster friends to make sure that they’ve led healthy and happy lives.
For $30 per person, Lucky Catch Cruises takes lobster lovers like me to Casco Bay for a day in the life of a Maine lobsterman. Expect to haul up traps alongside picture-perfect lighthouses and measure each and every lobster that comes aboard.
We learned that measuring our catch (and making sure that the lobster is old enough and large enough to keep) is a major part of Maine’s sustainability plan. The same goes for protecting female lobsters who are proven breeders. This means that female lobsters with visible eggs cannot be harvested. When a lobsterman finds a female lobster with eggs, he’ll make a notch on her tail to identify her as a good breeder, thus protecting her for life from being harvested. Lobstering in Maine is by trap only (no dragging or diving is allowed), and there are strict limitations on the number of traps an individual can use.
One trap at a time, Maine’s lobster industry brings $1 billion to the state’s economy each year. As for its coveted new shell lobster, not much of it is exported. I’m afraid that means you’ll just have to visit Portland and taste the difference for yourself.
My trip to Portland was made possible by the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative. Views expressed are my own.