December 1st means that we can officially get into the holiday spirit here in Cayman. Not only does this date mark the end of hurricane season, but it also means that lobster season has begun. I know many locals who make this date an unofficial holiday by booking time off work or going for a morning snorkel to hunt for these spiny crustaceans. Everyone hopes to find a “bug” that’s matured enough during the off-season to make a delicious meal in the near future. Like everything we eat ‘fresher is always better’, but I think it’s important to highlight the differences between the well- known, cold water Maine Lobster and our Caribbean Spiny Lobster, and of course share some of my favourite lobster restaurants on island.
Due to our proximity to the United States many of us are familiar with the Maine lobsters pictured on Red Lobster signs across the nation, but spiny lobsters in the Caribbean aren’t exactly the same thing. Sure, they may look similar at first glance, but their appearance and taste do differ. Caribbean spiny lobsters are known for their tail meat, have a mild salty flavour and can get quite firm when cooked, whereas Maine lobsters are known for their pincer claw meat, sweeter flavour and delicate texture. Whether you’re living in or visiting Cayman, be prepared to enjoy Caribbean spiny lobster islandwide.
When you’re on the prowl for local lobster at restaurants I recommend being the first one to order it. The Department of Environment’s (DoE) rules and regulations are strict and state that lobsters must have a minimum tail length of six inches and that the take limit is “three spiny lobster per person, per day, or six spiny lobster per boat, per day – whichever is less”. Restaurants once again face a challenge as they can only have three local spiny lobsters in their possession per day, which automatically makes them a big-ticket item. A handful of high-end restaurants, such as The Brasserie, Morgan’s, and Grand Old House, are well-known for taking on this endeavour and tend to grill or broil a whole lobster and serve it with lemon plus a seasoned sauce or clarified butter.
With lobster season being just three months long (1st December – 28th February) you want to try your best to get it when it’s fresh. If you happen to be on island outside of this time period don’t fret as imported Caribbean spiny lobster is served year-round. A few of my favourite restaurants and dishes include Cayman Cabana for their fried Lobster Lollipops and their brunchy Lobster Benedict, Lobster Pot for their smooth Lobster Bisque and light Lobster & Mango Salad, the filling Spicy Fried Lobster Wrap from Macabuca and Rackam’s fried Lobster Cakes.
T’is the season to hit the water and snorkel for spiny lobsters (and conchs!). No boat? No problem, because charter companies like the locally owned Double Trouble can take you out to hunt. Otherwise, take it easy and pop into my favourite lobster spots to enjoy this regional delicacy for yourself.
By Chelsea Tennant
Chelsea Tennant is the blogger behind the popular Cayman Islands blog, Island Epicurean where readers can find a detailed guide to the Cayman Islands’ culinary culture.