Sunday, June 26, 2011

Lobster Roe and Tomalley

I have eaten lobster many times before when I've come to the green substance in the cavity and been grossed out. My impression has been that it was non-eliminated fecal matter and similar substances that I had no desire to put in my mouth. Then recently I saw Andrew Zimmern on Bizarre Foods call the green matter "tomalley" and he indicated it was very good. I have also heard him talk about lobster roe, or lobster eggs, and how good they are. Well, the other day I was at King's Fish House in Rancho Cucamonga and got the New England Clam Bake which included a 1 1/4 pound Maine lobster. 
As I've indicated before, I find that most places over-cook lobster, so I asked the waitress for it to be cooked just beyond the translucent stage. I ended up with an interesting treat. I found a good deal of tomalley 
and with Andrew Zimmern speaking in my head I launched into it with gusto (the tomalley is in the carapace hidden under the thin flap of "skin" - see below). 
It actually is very good. It is runny, sweet and salty. Tomalley, from the Carib word "tumale," means a sauce of lobster liver. It is a liquidy green substance found in the lobster carapace that fulfills the function of both the liver and the pancreas, filtering out toxins. It can contain PCBs which are bad for you in large concentrations, but consumed in small levels, according to Health Canada guidelines, no more than one lobster per day (I wish), should not hurt you. Then I found an extra bonus. As I consumed the tomalley closer to the tail I found it full of a black substance. 
Even farther back toward the tail I found a red substance (see the red substance inside and just underneath the top portion of the lobster tail shell). 
I assumed, and later confirmed, it was lobster roe or lobster eggs. The lobster roe is naturally black and when cooked it turns red and is called coral (toward the bottom of the picture, the roe has turned red on the far ends and is still black in the center). 
Because I had asked the restaurant not to cook my lobster too long, the most outside roe had turned red and the inner roe, the majority of it, was still black. 
The lobster roe is also liquidy, salty and sweet, full of lobstery taste, and paired well with the tomalley, but it was not for the faint of heart. It was quite a conglomeration of green, black and red that would have absolutely turned me green in my pre-Andrew Zimmern days (I saw one site online that said 90% of the customers at a seafood restaurant in coastal Canada did not eat the lobster tomalley). The coral, or red roe, was more rubbery and not as good as the black roe. I ate it all and enjoyed the tomalley and roe as much or more than the actual lobster tail 
and claws, 
which were also good. The last several restaurant lobsters I've eaten have all gone to the cooks with the same instruction to cook them just beyond translucence. It has made all the difference - I find I actually love lobster, where before, with overcooked lobster, I could take it or leave it. I also need to note that Maine lobster is one of the 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die.


  1. Thanks Bob, this has always been a source of frustration for me as I too adore lobster. Perhaps I will need to open myself up to the experience. This is one adventure I will need to amp-up for.

  2. I really didn't find it too hard once I knew it wasn't excrement. Viewed as liver and eggs, it mentally is a much easier picture.

  3. lobsters are bottom feeders and the tomaley contain toxic PCBs which cause cancer long after they are consumed (perhaps why they were prohibited in the Old Testament?) ... an immediate detox should be done after eating these shellfish ... same goes for all other shellfish which also contain toxins causing death, cancer and later permanent senile dememtia unless a thorough detox is done. A women called Quaide loves lobster and has lost her mind over the years, alienating herself from her children and friends, even though she inherited millions of dollars, the consumption of lobster has ruined her life

    1. I suspect that the Old Testament prohibition on lobster had little to do with toxic PCBs, but there certainly are issues with any fish, really most of what we eat and the environment they live in.

    2. Or perhaps the Old Testament had to do with the fact that lobsters can be cannibalistic. While previously thought that lobsters, like shellfish, were bottom-feeders, I believe that it has been discovered that most feed on live food - crabs, mussels, sea urchins... even other lobsters.

    3. Calm down and read a book, geeze dude. Apparently you kow nothing about the toxicity of any of these substances.


  4. I like the idea that lobster tomalley is prohibited in the old testament. Maybe there are reason with it but scientifically human do not have good study. On the otherhand, Lobster Tomalley is delicious.

  5. After reading these comments, I'm starting to wonder if this is what caused the dementia in my sister.

    She was only 53 when the symptoms started appearing. She LOVED lobster and would eat it all the time. Especially the tomalley.

  6. I love lobster and know many places to get them for less then $10 her in North East ( many places that sell them will steam them for free or an extra dollar.
    I am a fussy eater and a lobster can be the most disgusting thing on earth to eat. You sort of have to not let it freak you out or over think and analyze what you are doing and just eat and enjoy it.
    The green Tomalley is the sweetest part of the lobster. It is not nice to look at but if by chance you like guacamole it is about the same to look at but a lighter green. and even better.
    I recommend using the Tomalley like a dipping sauce typicaly as I eat the tail meat of the lobster.
    Trust me it will be really good!
    As to the Roe, many seasoned lobster aficionados try and get a female lobster because they feel there is a good chance there will be Roe…..I am not sure if the roe are eggs or not thus a male may have it too?
    I can tell you the Roe is not bad to eat and when eaten with the other lobster meat adds to the flavor thus for some that is what makes an even better lobster…..
    Just close your eyes and eat it!

    a few places that run a good lobster special in Newport RI Flows drive through Clam Shack, on long island NY the Breakers in Bayville and the Steam room in PT Jefferson
    Call first since they don't always have them.

    Enjoy turbodmc

  7. There's a vein in the tail. That's where the excrement is. Easy to remove.

  8. I have eaten lobster all my life, 66 now and love it. I use the Tomalley in a dressing, using butter, bread, little salt and pepper and parsley. Cutting from the legs to the tail in the center, Clean the lobster, remove the vain in the tail. Rinse with cold water, brush butter on the meat and boil around 12 to 15 minutes, remove fill the cavity with the dressing and boil till dressing in browned. This is an old recipe don’t know anyone cooking lobster this way. If you love the tomalley you should love this.

    1. I have been eating lobster since I was knee high and have always loved it. To be fair my appreciation has grown since the early days of just eating the tail meat and claws to the last 25 years or so of loving it all including the tomalley. I never experienced the black goop until last night. My husband and I visited a local Joes Crab Shack. I ordered the steamed lobster. When it came out, much to my disappointment they had cleaned out all the tomalley. I told the waiter and his manager said they would make me another. When the second one came out it had not been cut open at all and when I twisted the tail off out poured a sea of black liquid. I broke into the body cavity to find black slimy goop. It tasted foul and smelled like sewage and there was little to no tomalley. I can't imagine anyone eating it and enjoying it. When the manager came over to see of the second lobster was any better she took one look at it and new already that I was disappointed once again. She explained that the black goop had been happening a lot lately and that's why they started cleaning out the lobsters before serving. Why would so many of them be like this?
      @anonymous recipe person.....thanks for the idea I'm definitely going to try this idea at home. I'm assuming you meant to write broil and not boil though.
      @anonymous toxic cleanse old testament person.....the world odds already crazy enough and something will probably give you cancer anyway so you might as well enjoy some lobster and don't worry about it! Life is short, eat what's tastey!