As a club chef in Connecticut, Jeff Perez has to have a lobster roll on the menu at all times.
“Even if I’m charging $29 for six ounces of lobster on a toasted bun, we still sell a ton of them—30 or 40 a night,” says the Executive Chef of Fairview Country Club in Greenwich, Conn. “Our members just love lobster.”
He and five other Connecticut club chefs—Jim Ramirez, Executive Chef of The Shore and Country Club (Norwalk, Conn.); Kevin Sullivan, Executive Chef of Innis Arden Golf Club (Old Greenwich, Conn.); Todd McGarvey, Executive Chef of Greenwich Water Club (Cos Cob, Conn.); Dominic Calla, Executive Chef of Round Hill Club (Greenwich, Conn.); and Chad Esposto, Executive Chef of The Milbrook Club (Greenwich, Conn.)—set out to learn more about the process of lobstering in Maine.
The excursion was sponsored by Ready Seafood, a family-owned and operated company based in Portland, Maine, as well as Sysco, and the chefs were accompanied by two Ready Seafood associates: John Leavitt, VP of Sales and Business Development, and Curt Brown, a marine biologist.
“It was a lot of fun, and it was very eye-opening to see how hard they work,” says Perez.
Protecting the Resource
As part of the excursion, the chefs took to the Atlantic to learn all about how to bait and pull traps and about how lobsters are evaluated and harvested. The trip highlighted the industry’s continued focus on sustainability and a shared vision to protect the resource for current and future generations.
“Lobsters take a long time to come to maturity,” says Perez. “Harvesting undersized lobsters hurts the entire industry. The same goes for harvesting female breeders.”
From the eye socket to the end of the body, a lobster must be bigger than three-and-a-quarter inches—or it has to go back. And if a female lobster has eggs—or if she’s had eggs in the past—she goes back in the water.
“If a lobsterman pulls up a female that has eggs, he notches a ‘V’ into her tail,” Perez explains. “This doesn’t hurt her, but it marks her as a breeding lobster, and it protects her from being harvested.”
Another tactic to help the lobster industry thrive: habitats for lobsters to hide from prey.
“One thing I learned: When a lobster is born, it spends the first few days floating at the top of the ocean before eventually making its way to the ocean floor. You think they’re crawling along the ocean floor their entire lives, but it’s not true,” says Perez. “Once they hit the ocean floor, they seek out rocks and crevices to hide until they get to a bigger size. So [Brown] developed these trays that he fills with rocks and lowers to the ocean floor. Once they sink to the bottom, the lobsters find their way into these little habitats where they are safer.”
After spending time on the water, the club chefs headed to Ready’s processing plant, where they were met with two Olympic-size swimming pools filled with lobster.
The lobsters are put into “purging pools” to clean out their digestive system, Perez says, followed by the sorting table. Then, processing depends on the product. Ready offers fresh, frozen and raw lobster meat.
“They have a steamer—the size of a subway car—that cooks the lobsters,” says Perez.
The steaming process, compared to boiling, results in a better overall product, he says. And the process for raw lobster meat is equally innovative.
“They developed this pressurizing machine that they put the lobsters in once they’re stunned and killed,” says Perez. “They put the lobsters in raw. The drop in pressure basically pulls the lobster meat away from the shell—which I’ve never seen done before.”
Ultimately, it’s a huge time- and labor saver in the kitchen.
While the lobster roll is a fixture at Fairview CC, chilled half-lobsters are also an hors d’oeuvre staple during Friday night cocktail hours, along with sushi and other items. But Perez now has a few new ideas up his sleeve, thanks to restaurant trips in Portland to Eventide Oyster Co. and the James Beard award-winning Fore Street Restaurant—plus demos by Ready Seafood.
“[Brown] was tempura-battering raw lobster meat,” says Perez. “I’d never had fried lobster meat before.”
It was “an eye-opener,” he says—and something he plans to add to a future menu.