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Product Spotlight: Spiny Lobster
Coldwater or warmwater, tails lend luxury to high-end and midscale menus
October 01, 2005
Lobster is the quintessential luxury seafood, but spiny lobster can lend real marquee status to your menu or seafood case.
There are more than 30 species of spiny, or rock, lobster in tropical and subtropical waters around the world, ranging from 1 to 5 pounds. They are marketed as coldwater, mainly from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, or warmwater, from Brazil, the Bahamas, Honduras, Florida and California.
The major species is the warmwater Panulirus argus, which is found throughout the Caribbean and comprises more than half of global spiny lobster landings.
Spinys are marketed primarily as frozen tails in the United States. Coldwater tails command $5 to $6 more a pound than warmwater. There are biological reasons for coldwater spiny’s market status, explains Alan Kiwi, in sales at Alba Specialty Seafoods in New York, the top U.S. importer of cold- and warmwater tails.
Coldwater species grow more slowly than warmwater, producing a firmer texture, and their diet gives them a sweet flavor.
Coldwater tails also have a reputation for quality processing, he notes. Warmwater fisheries are generally small-boat operations that land only tails for processing. The more sophisticated coldwater fisheries land and process live animals, making it easier to monitor quality, Kiwi points out.
That’s not to say there aren’t good-quality warmwater tails. Kiwi says that Brazil has perhaps the best Caribbean-lobster product, while northern Australia, which processes live spinys of a different tropical species (P. ornatus), is also known for its high-quality tails.
Price tends to direct the spiny lobster market. Kiwi says a 6- to 8-ounce tail from Brazil costs $17.50, while the same-sized Australian product runs $22 to $23 per pound and premium South African tails fetch slightly more.
The lower-cost warmwater tails are also more abundant, making them a good choice for high-end casual-dining concepts that want to differentiate their menus. Saltrock Grill in Indian Shores, Fla., offers a “monster 1 1/4-pound Caribbean tail, roasted and finished on the Pit,” for $39.95.
Warmwater tails also appeal to retailers who want to dress up their seafood case at a price point that won’t scare customers away.
Upscale restaurants prefer the prestige of coldwater spinys, especially large tails, which make a dramatic presentation. The Oceanaire Seafood Room, with seven locations across the country, menus “Colossal” Australian coldwater tails, grilled or broiled.