Next time check your lobster’s passport to fully appreciate where it comes from. Florida lobster season as regulated commercially and recreationally by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and spans August to March, allowing for spawning in the off months. The crustacean itself is actually Panulirus argus or “spiny lobster”. Characteristic for its abundant tail (meat!) and very long, thick, spiny antennae, the spiny lobster and its clawed doppelganger the true Maine lobster aren’t as related as you might think. In fact, Caribbean lobster is more accurate than Florida, which really refers to the regulatory season itself and the jurisdiction of fisheries.
“Oh they’re walkers,” fisherman George Figueroa explained on the phone this morning. “Lobster will walk hundreds of miles, from Mexico, you name it. Sometimes the traps are empty in the Keys and Bahamas, and then they’re full all of a sudden, so those were probably in Cuba.”
This begins to make a lot of sense when you consider the fossil record of spiny lobsters has been extended by the discovery in 1995 of a 110-million-year-old fossil near El Espiñal in Chiapas, Mexico.
George explains that lobsters generally look for habitats to hide, whether it’s a reef or something artificial. Divers will tend to catch them in the first month. Then as they do their walks at night, searching for food, fishermen lay traps in a desolate area so the trap then becomes the habitat — often baiting it with a lobster to make it more inviting for these social, pack travelers. The 2017-18 season is starting kind of weak, and they’ve been hauling several hundred pounds a week. Come January and February, supply will taper off.
We always are looking to feature ingredients at their freshest, and spiny lobster is one of those seasonal moments we look forward to each year. Chef de Cuisine Tim Piazza has be working it into the Michael’s Genuine® menu in a number of ways, from daily pasta specials to raw bar. But when Michael shot an email out last week that he was thinking a lobster pizza for Harry’s, we knew we needed to make it happen! TGHG executive Chef Bradley Herron jumped on it, from vacation no less, getting his troops together to source product, recipe test and ultimately implement a plan to launch in all three locations. Chefs Max Makowski, Megan Hess and Dillion Wolff are championing the effort to make it happen, working with our commissary kitchen to process 100 pounds or about 150 tails including cutting the shell, cooking sous vide in butter and thyme, and getting to the Harry’s kitchen managers complete with recipe cards and training for a smooth consistent introduction. Making changes to menus gets more challenging as we grow, so this process is essential to ensure the end game lives up to the initial intention.
Enjoy a taste of the result as Harry’s Pizzeria celebrates the start of the season in Florida Lobster Pizza with braised leeks, Calabrian chiles, fontina and scallions as next week’s special pie. It will run Monday, August 21 to Sunday, August 27 at all three locations for $21. How’s that for an exercise in knowing where your food comes from? Watch as the chefs test a couple versions yesterday on @harryspizzeria here, and get those juices flowing. George’s Trigger Seafood in another astonishing turn of events has added an Instagram account, so be sure to show him some love too as you enjoy the fruits of his labor!