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What are soft shell lobsters?
A soft shell lobster, sometimes called a “shedder lobster,” is a lobster that has just recently molted, or shed its old shell, so it can begin growing a new, larger shell. Maine residents often prefer eating soft shell lobsters, since the lobster meat can be sweeter than hard shell lobsters, and a shedder lobster’s shell can usually be broken apart with bare hands after cooking, without needing a nutcracker. But as Maine locals also know, there is relatively little meat inside a soft shell lobster, as compared to a hard shell lobster.
A lobster loses its shell (a process called molting) as often as five times a year during its first years of life, and lobsters continue to molt about once a year as they grow older and larger. In order to pull itself out of the old shell, without getting stuck, the lobster shrinks parts of its body to about 25% of their normal size. The soft shell lobster’s body remains small (and composed largely of water) for quite a while after molting, so that it will not outgrow its new shell too soon and have to molt again too quickly.
Maine residents who prefer the sweet, tender meat of a soft shell lobster understand that when they crack the soft shell, they will find relatively little meat inside. People who are used to eating hard shell lobsters, however, are often disappointed by how little meat is found in a soft shell lobster.
Soft shell lobsters, having just recently molted, are also naturally in a weakened an vulnerable state, and soft shell lobsters are not likely to survive shipping or transportation, so unless you are buying and cooking the lobster close to where it was caught, if you are buying a live lobster, it makes sense to purchase hard shelled lobster for delivery.
Along the northeastern coast of the U.S., the lobster was once so common in the 17th and 18th centuries that it was considered a "junk" food. When caught in great quantities or stranded on shore after severe storms, lobsters served as garden fertilizer and as a food staple given to widows, orphans, servants, and prisoners. It was so commonly used as a food for servants and prisoners that Massachusetts passed a law forbidding its use more than twice a week - - a daily lobster dinner was considered cruel and unusual punishment! The American revolutionaries hurled the insult "lobsterback" at the red-coated British. It wasn't until the 19th century that lobsters regained their status as a luxury food item, mostly as a result of their popularity with royalty. Since that time, lobsters have become big business and, as a result, have been well studied. These studies have revealed that there's more to these creatures than meets the eye - - or even the palate!