|Photo via WSJ|
There has been a bit of buzz lately about Fourchu lobster- which comes from a tiny fishing village in Canada. This summer several marquee restaurants in New York City are promoting the lobster on their menus for a considerable price tag. So what is the fuss all about? Is Canadian Fourchu lobster better than Maine lobster?
A lot of buzz around Fourchu lobster is being driven by Dorothy Cann Hamilton, who is the founder and CEO of New York’s French Culinary Institute and a descendant of a line of Fourchu natives. In the past several years she’s been encouraging top New York restaurants to serve Fourchu lobster at a premium price to help support her ancestral home. Fourchu has just 47 full-time residents. Most of these residents are fishermen and their families, many of whom have lived in Fourchu for generations. It’s a touching story and one that can appeal to chefs trying to support farmers and small-scale fisherman.
Beyond the artisanal story, some people claim that Fourchu produces a lobster of superlative flavor and texture. The waters off Nova Scotia are some of the coldest anywhere on the Atlantic seaboard and colder water is said to produce more flavorful meat. While Maine lobster is often described as sweet and tender, Fourchu lobster is said to be “full, complicated and mineralized.”
Finally, the lobsters are only harvested for a few months during the year. Once molting starts in the summer, Canada closes its lobster fishing season. The limited window of time in which you can experience Fourchu lobster creates a scarcity effect, adding to its allure. It also means that Fourchu lobsters are always packed full of meat (as compared to a new shell Maine lobster).
Yet is Canadian Fourchu lobster really better than Maine lobster? In honor of National Lobster Day on the 15th of June, The Wall Street Journal put Fourchu lobster up against Maine lobster in a blind taste test that involved three impartial judges: the founder of the food blog SeriousEats.com, Ed Levine; the chef at Esca, David Pasternack; and Pearl Oyster Bar’s owner, Rebecca Charles.
So, Canadian Fourchu lobster vs Maine lobster? The verdict? Both Ms. Charles and Mr. Pasternack determined that they preferred the Maine lobster over the Canadian Fourchu lobster. Mr. Levine ultimately said he couldn’t tell the difference. In David Pasternack’s opinion, Maine lobster had a little bit more complexity of flavor and he preferred Maine lobster’s all around flavor. Rebecca Charles felt the Fourchu lobster had more complexity but still preferred the Maine lobster. Again, Ed Levine couldn’t tell the difference.
The reality is, the flavor and texture of a lobster – Maine, Canadian or other – will vary depending on a variety of factors. Water temperature plays a critical role, with colder waters producing the most flavorful lobsters. Yet while the waters of Fourchu are extremely cold, so are the waters of Down East, Maine. Currently the ocean temperature in Fourchu is reportedly 10 degrees Celsius. In Cutler, Maine, where my family have lobster fished for generations, the ocean temperature is currently 10 degrees as well.
Texture and flavor are also influenced by the molting cycle. A lobster which has yet to molt (called a hard shell lobster) will be packed with meat and that meat will be a bit firmer and less sweet. New shell lobsters (also called shedders) contain less meat but that meat is more tender and sweet. The Maine lobster season runs through the summer, allowing Maine fishermen to sell both hard shell and new shell lobsters. Some restaurants and eateries serve new shell lobster exclusively because they believe the flavor is superior. The Clam Shack, for example, which has recently won fan favorite for “best lobster roll in America” only use new shell Maine lobster meat in their rolls.
I think Fourchu lobster is certainly worth trying but I’m not convinced it’s worth the premium price tag restaurants are charging vs. Maine lobster. I’m a big advocate of supporting small-scale fishermen, but are the fishermen of Fourchu any more special or hard-working than the multi-generational fishermen of Cutler harbor? In summary, I think David Pasternack of Esca said it best:
“I think [Fourchu is] a good story, but you know, I buy lobsters from small independent lobstermen, too,” Mr. Pasternack said. “They’ve gotta survive just the way the people in Fourchu have to survive.”
To read about where to get delicious Maine lobster, click here.
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