Seafood of the Week – Lobster

October 8, 2013 at 10:55 AM | Posted in seafood, Seafood of the Week | 1 Comment
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American lobster, Homarus americanus, with claws banded

American lobster, Homarus americanus, with claws banded

Clawed lobsters comprise a family (Nephropidae, sometimes also Homaridae) of large marine crustaceans. They have long bodies with muscular tails, and live in crevices or burrows on the sea floor. Three of their five pairs of legs have claws, including the first pair, which are usually much larger than the others. Highly prized as seafood, lobsters are economically important, and are often one of the most profitable commodities in coastal areas they populate. Commercially important species include two species of Homarus from the northern Atlantic Ocean, and scampi – the northern-hemisphere genus Nephrops and the southern-hemisphere genus Metanephrops. Although several other groups of crustaceans have the word “lobster” in their names, the unqualified term “lobster” generally refers to the clawed lobsters of the family Nephropidae. Clawed lobsters are not closely related to spiny lobsters or slipper lobsters, which have no claws (chelae), or to squat lobsters. The closest living relatives of clawed lobsters are the reef lobsters and the three families of freshwater crayfish.

 

 

Lobsters are invertebrates with a hard protective exoskeleton. Like most arthropods, lobsters must moult in order to grow, which leaves them vulnerable. During the moulting process, several species change colour. Lobsters have 10 walking legs; the front three pairs bear claws, the first of which are larger than the others. Although, like most other arthropods, lobsters are largely bilaterally symmetrical, some genera possess unequal, specialised claws.
Lobster anatomy includes the cephalothorax which fuses the head and the thorax, both of which are covered by a chitinous carapace, and the abdomen. The lobster’s head bears antennae, antennules, mandibles, the first and second maxillae, and the first, second, and third maxillipeds. Because lobsters live in a murky environment at the bottom of the ocean, they mostly use their antennae as sensors. The lobster eye has a reflective structure above a convex retina. In contrast, most complex eyes use refractive ray concentrators (lenses) and a concave retina. The abdomen includes swimmerets and its tail is composed of uropods and the telson.
Lobsters, like snails and spiders, have blue blood due to the presence of haemocyanin which contains copper (in contrast, vertebrates and many other animals have red blood from iron-rich haemoglobin). Lobsters possess a green hepatopancreas, called the tomalley by chefs, which functions as the animal’s liver and pancreas.
Lobsters of the family Nephropidae are similar in overall form to a number of other related groups. They differ from freshwater crayfish in lacking the joint between the last two segments of the thorax, and they differ from the reef lobsters of the family Enoplometopidae in having full claws on the first three pairs of legs, rather than just one. The distinctions from fossil families such as Chilenophoberidae are based on the pattern of grooves on the carapace.

 

 

Large lobsters are estimated to have aged up to 60 years old, although determining age is difficult.
Research suggests that lobsters may not slow down, weaken, or lose fertility with age, and that older lobsters may be more fertile than younger lobsters. This longevity may be due to telomerase, an enzyme that repairs DNA sequences of the form “TTAGGG”. Lobsters express telomerase as adults through most tissue, which has been suggested to be related to their longevity. This sequence, repeated hundreds of times, occurs at the ends of chromosomes and are referred to as telomeres.
Lobsters, like many other decapod crustaceans, grow throughout life, and are able to add new muscle cells at each molt. Lobster longevity allows them to reach impressive sizes. According to Guinness World Records, the largest lobster ever caught was in Nova Scotia, Canada, weighing 20.15 kilograms (44.4 lb).

 

 

Lobsters are found in all oceans. They live on rocky, sandy, or muddy bottoms from the shoreline to beyond the edge of the continental shelf. They generally live singly in crevices or in burrows under rocks.
Lobsters are omnivores and typically eat live prey such as fish, mollusks, other crustaceans, worms, and some plant life. They scavenge if necessary, and are known to resort to cannibalism in captivity. However, when lobster skin is found in lobster stomachs, this is not necessarily evidence of cannibalism – lobsters eat their shed skin after moulting. While cannibalism was thought to be nonexistent among wild lobster populations, it was observed in 2012 by researchers studying wild lobsters in Maine, where it is theorized that these first known instances of lobster cannibalism in the wild can be attributed to a local population explosion among lobsters caused by the disappearance of many of the Maine lobsters’ natural predators.
In general, lobsters are 25–50 centimetres (10–20 in) long, and move by slowly walking on the sea floor. However, when they flee, they swim backward quickly by curling and uncurling their abdomen. A speed of 5 metres per second (11 mph) has been recorded. This is known as the caridoid escape reaction.
Symbiotic animals of the genus Symbion, the only member of the phylum Cycliophora, live exclusively on lobster gills and mouthparts. Different species of Symbion have been found on the three commercially important lobsters of the north Atlantic OceanNephrops norvegicus, Homarus gammarus and Homarus americanus.

 

 

Lobster recipes include Lobster Newberg and Lobster Thermidor. Lobster is used in soup, bisque, lobster rolls, and cappon magro. Lobster meat may be dipped in clarified butter, resulting in a sweetened flavour.
Cooks boil or steam live lobsters. The lobster cooks for seven minutes for the first pound and three minutes for each additional pound.
According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the mean level of mercury in American lobster is 0.31 ppm.

 

 

The most common way of killing a lobster is by placing it live in boiling water (with or without spending a period of time in a freezer) or by splitting it by severing the body in half lengthwise. Lobsters may also be killed or rendered insensate immediately before boiling by a stab into the brain, in the belief that this will stop suffering. However, a lobster’s brain operates from not one but several ganglia and disabling only the frontal ganglion does not usually result in death or unconsciousness. The boiling method is illegal in some places, such as in Reggio Emilia, Italy, where offenders face fines of up to €495.

 

 

Steamed whole lobster, with claws cracked and tail split

Steamed whole lobster, with claws cracked and tail split

In North America, the American lobster did not achieve popularity until the mid-19th century, when New Yorkers and Bostonians developed a taste for it, and commercial lobster fisheries only flourished after the development of the lobster smack, a custom-made boat with open holding wells on the deck to keep the lobsters alive during transport. Prior to this time, lobster was considered a mark of poverty or as a food for indentured servants or lower members of society in Maine, Massachusetts, and the Canadian Maritimes, and servants specified in employment agreements that they would not eat lobster more than twice per week. Lobster was also commonly served in prisons, much to the displeasure of inmates. American lobster was initially deemed worthy only of being used as fertilizer or fish bait, and it was not until well into the twentieth century that it was viewed as more than a low-priced canned staple food.
Caught lobsters are graded as new-shell, hard-shell or old-shell, and because lobsters which have recently shed their shells are the most delicate, there is an inverse relationship between the price of American lobster and its flavour. New-shell lobsters have paper-thin shells and a worse meat-to-shell ratio, but the meat is very sweet. However, the lobsters are so delicate that even transport to Boston almost kills them, making the market for new-shell lobsters strictly local to the fishing towns where they are offloaded. Hard-shell lobsters with firm shells, but with less sweet meat, can survive shipping to Boston, New York and even Los Angeles, so they command a higher price than new-shell lobsters. Meanwhile, old-shell lobsters, which have not shed since the previous season and have a coarser flavour, can be air-shipped anywhere in the world and arrive alive, making them the most-expensive. One seafood guide notes that an eight-dollar lobster dinner at a restaurant overlooking fishing piers in Maine is consistently delicious, while “the eighty-dollar lobster in a three-star Paris restaurant is apt to be as much about presentation as flavor”.

 

 

Lobsters are caught using baited, one-way traps with a colour-coded marker buoy to mark cages. Lobster is fished in water between 1 and 500 fathoms (2 and 900 m), although some lobsters live at 2,000 fathoms (3,700 m). Cages are of plastic-coated galvanised steel or wood. A lobster fisher may tend as many as 2,000 traps. Around the year 2000, due to overfishing and high demand, lobster aquaculture expanded. As of 2008, no lobster aquaculture operation had achieved commercial success, due mainly to the fact that lobsters eat each other (cannibalism) and the slow growth of the species; these two problems make it difficult to make lobster aquaculture profitable.

 

 

 

Cheese of the Week – Parmesan

September 27, 2012 at 9:34 AM | Posted in cheese, cooking, Food | 2 Comments
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Parmesan cheese is the name of a few kinds of Italian extra-hard cheeses. It is usually the cheese to go with Spaghetti and other typical

Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano)

Italian pasta, but it also has many other uses. Parmesan is a part of Italian national cuisine and is usually grated.
Usually, Parmesan cheese is either Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese. Both cheeses are AOC. This means that the way they are made, and the region they come from are strictly regulated.
Only these brands (Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano) are protected. In many parts of the world, cheese is sold as Parmesan cheese that has nothing to do with the true (Italian) Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano. The biggest producers of such cheeses are the United States and Argentina.
The original Parmesan cheese is one of the most expensive cheeses in the world.

 
Parmigiano-Reggiano

Country of origin Italy
Region, town Provinces of Parma,
Reggio Emilia, Modena,
Bologna (west of the Reno),
Mantua (south of the Po River)
Source of milk Cows
Pasteurised No
Texture Hard
Aging time Minimum: 12 months
Vecchio: 18–24 months
Stravecchio: 24–36 months
Certification Italy: DOP 1955
EU: PDO 1992

Parmigiano-Reggiano also known in English as Parmesan is a hard, granular cheese, cooked but not pressed, named after the producing areas near Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, and Bologna (all in Emilia-Romagna), and Mantova (in Lombardia), Italy. Under Italian law, only cheese produced in these provinces may be labelled “Parmigiano-Reggiano”, while European law classifies the name as a protected designation of origin.
Parmigiano is the Italian adjective for Parma. Reggiano is the Italian adjective for Reggio Emilia. Parmesan is the French name for it and also serves as the informal term for the cheese in the English language. The name Parmesan is also used for cheeses which imitate Parmigiano-Reggiano, with phrases such as “Italian hard cheese” adopted to skirt legal constraints. The closest legitimate Italian cheese to Parmigiano-Reggiano is Grana Padano.

Parmigiano-Reggiano is made from raw cow’s milk. The whole milk of the morning milking is mixed with the naturally skimmed milk (it

Parmigiano-Reggiano factory

is left in large shallow tanks to allow the cream to separate) of the previous evening’s milking, resulting in a part skim mixture. The milk is pumped into copper-lined vats (copper heats and cools quickly). Starter whey is added, and the temperature is raised to 33–35 °C (91–95 °F). Calf rennet is added, and the mixture is left to curdle for 10–12 minutes. The curd is then broken up mechanically into small pieces (around the size of rice grains). The temperature is then raised to 55 °C (131 °F) with careful control by the cheese-maker. The curd is left to settle for 45–60 minutes. The compacted curd is collected in a piece of muslin before being divided in two and placed in molds. There is 1100 L (291 US gallons or 250 imperial gallons) of milk per vat, producing two cheeses each. The curd making up each wheel at this point weighs around 45 kg (100 lb). The remaining whey in the vat was traditionally used to feed the pigs from which “Prosciutto di Parma” (cured Parma ham) was produced. The barns for these animals were usually just a few yards away from the cheese production rooms.
The cheese is put into a stainless steel, round form that is pulled tight with a spring-powered buckle so the cheese retains its wheel shape. After a day or two, the buckle is released and a plastic belt imprinted numerous times with the Parmigiano-Reggiano name, the plant’s number, and month and year of production is put around the cheese and the metal form is buckled tight again. The imprints take hold on the rind of the cheese in about a day and the wheel is then put into a brine bath to absorb salt for 20–25 days. After brining, the wheels are then transferred to the aging rooms in the plant for 12 months. Each cheese is placed on wooden shelves that can be 24 cheeses high by 90 cheeses long or about 4,000 total wheels per aisle. Each cheese and the shelf underneath it is then cleaned manually or robotically every seven days. The cheese is also turned at this time.

At 12 months, the Consorzio Parmigiano-Reggiano inspects each and every cheese. The cheese is tested by a master grader whose only instruments are a hammer and his ear. By tapping the wheel at various points, he can identify undesirable cracks and voids within the wheel. Those cheeses that pass the test are then heat branded on the rind with the Consorzio’s logo. Those that do not pass the test used to have their rinds marked with lines or crosses all the way around to inform consumers that they are not getting top-quality Parmigiano-Reggiano; more recent practices simply have these lesser rinds stripped of all markings.
Traditionally, cows have to be fed only on grass or hay, producing grass fed milk. Only natural whey culture is allowed as a starter, together with calf rennet.
The only additive allowed is salt, which the cheese absorbs while being submerged for 20 days in brine tanks saturated to near total salinity with Mediterranean sea salt. The product is aged an average of two years. The cheese is produced daily, and it can show a natural variability. True Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese has a sharp, complex fruity/nutty taste with a strong savory flavor and a slightly gritty texture. Inferior versions can impart a bitter taste.
The average Parmigiano-Reggiano wheel is about 18–24 centimeters (7.1–9.4 in) high, 40–45 centimeters (16–18 in) in diameter, and weighs 38 kilograms (84 lb).

Parmigiano-Reggiano is commonly grated over pasta dishes, stirred into soups and risottos, and eaten on its own. It is often shaved or grated over other dishes.
Slivers and chunks of the hardest parts of the crust are sometimes simmered in soup. They can also be just roasted and eaten as a snack.
The hollowed-out crust of a whole wheel of Parmigiano can be used as a serving pot for large groups.

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