04 February 2012 by Robyn Campbell

Eating Cape rock lobsters – what you should know

Whereas crayfish are prized for their meaty claws (and tail), it’s the sickle of almost-sweet, soft, delicate white meat in the rock lobster’s tail that gets seafood lovers salivating.

Compared to many other travel destinations, South Africa comes out tops when it comes to eating out affordably. Along with venison, visitors are eager to taste our variety of fish and seafood.

There’s something incredibly delicious about eating food from the sea. Whether it’s fresh oysters eaten au naturel, or with a splash of lemon juice and a tickle of Tabasco® sauce; prawns barbequed on the braai, then slathered in garlicky lemon-butter and dunked into piri-piri, or more-ish mussels in a creamy white wine sauce.

The ultimate indulgence though has to be freshly caught Cape rock lobster; especially when it’s cooked over an open fire and daubed with lemon or parsley butter.

South African seafood lovers and fishermen often erroneously speak of crayfish, when in fact they mean lobster. Many restaurants also incorrectly list crayfish instead of lobster on their menus.

The major difference is that crayfish (also called crawfish) are mostly found off the US coast, and live in fresh water, whereas rock lobsters (also called spiny lobsters) live in the Atlantic Ocean, and are found predominantly off the coasts of southern Africa and Australia.

Whereas crayfish are prized for their meaty claws (and tail), it’s the sickle of almost-sweet, soft, delicate white meat in the rock lobster’s tail that gets seafood lovers salivating.

The ultimate indulgence though has to be freshly caught Cape rock lobster; especially when it’s cooked over an open fire and daubed with lemon or parsley butter.

Of South Africa’s rock lobster species, West Coast and South Coast rock lobsters can be sustainably consumed and are therefore commercially harvested. Natal deep-sea rock lobster, though legal, is vulnerable to depletion. East Coast rock lobster is a red list species and may only be hand collected.

Anyone wishing to dive for lobsters in South Africa requires a permit available at any South African Post Office. The lobster season (usually mid November to end April), is strictly controlled with seasonal and daily bag limits applying. Recreational anglers may catch 4 lobsters per person per day, and the size restriction is 80mm carapace length.

When ordering lobster in a local restaurant, do ask when it was caught (out of season it is likely to have been frozen), and check the species. Any seafood restaurant worth its salt (pardon the cliche) will be able to confidently answer your questions. Alternatively, you can Google the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative, SASSI, to see which species is on the green (sustainable), orange (vulnerable), or red (illegal/endangered) list.

It’s not uncommon to be offered lobsters by private fishermen who have exceeded their daily quota during the season. Not only is it illegal for recreational anglers to sell their catch, but it’s unlikely the digestive tract of these lobsters, which could contain impurities and must be taken out before cooking, has been purged (cleaned with fresh water). Invariably, these lobsters are undersized, and buying them contributes to illegal harvesting and unsustainable populations.

Rather, enjoy this seasonal delicacy at a reputable seafood restaurant (even if they mistakenly refer to it as crayfish). The best place to enjoy a Cape rock lobster though, is close to the crustacean’s home in the chilly waters of the West Coast, in towns like Langebaan, Saldanha, Lamberts Bay, or Jacobsbaai.

Here, traditional open-air beach restaurants like Muisboskerm, Strandloper, Bosduifklip, and in Paternoster, the Noisy Oyster bistro (Tel: +27 (0)22 752 2196) specialise in preparing lobster for a sea-to-plate experience you won’t soon forget.

Image © Jacobsbaai Development Group/ www. http://www.jacobsbaaigroup.co.za

 

Category: Arts & Entertainment, Food & Wine

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