Folks in the Cayman Islands anticipate the arrival of Winter for more than just the cool breeze and New Year celebrations. Winter also brings lobster season — when locals can enjoy freshly caught spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) for three months of the year, December–February.
Those who want to try to catch their own need to know a few things before diving in. John Bothwell from the Cayman Islands Department of Environment explains, “Lobster may only be taken from outside marine protected areas and Wildlife Interaction Zones, and only spiny lobsters (Panulirus argus) may be taken.” Information and maps for marine protected areas are available on the Department of Environment’s website DOE.ky.
Bothwell continues, “Lobster must have a tail length of at least six inches to be taken and should be male — females should be avoided.” Females are easily recognised by looking at the hind/bottom leg (the legs nearest the tail). Females will have two toes on this leg.
The use of gloves, spears and hook sticks are prohibited. Additionally there is a take limit during open season of three spiny lobster per person per day or six spiny lobster per boat per day, whichever is less.
Those that acquire fresh lobster either by purchasing or catching their own have many ways to prepare the delicacy. Local chef Thomas Tennant of Tomfoodery Kitchen jumps in, sharing, “My favourite way to prepare local lobster is first marinating it in a mixture of Seville orange zest, juice, seasoning pepper, Scotch bonnet and scallion for at most 20 minutes, then grill the meat over open flames.” Next, he recommends roasting the shells and making a sauce with shallots, garlic, rum, coconut milk and butter. Sounds delicious, right?
For those looking for an easier recipe, Tennant recommends poaching lobster in a mixture of coconut milk and butter: “Using a thermometer, maintain the temperature at 165 degrees [Fahrenheit] and poach between 6 and 10 minutes, depending on how large it is or if it’s in or out of the shell.” Then flavour the butter with various herbs and spices. Tennant’s pro tip: Season the lobster first for about 10 minutes before poaching.
Want to skip cooking altogether? Hire Tennant as your personal chef. Tennant will come to your home to prepare your legally caught/purchased seafood. Tennant shares, “I have a waiver that must be signed first to protect me from liability in case the catch wasn’t stored properly after it was caught.” To store properly, place your catch in a cooler with ice and leave it there until Tennant arrives or it is time to cook it yourself. After Tennant inspects the meat and the waiver is signed, Tennant will prepare a scrumptious meal for your family. You can book Chef Tennant through his website tomfooderykitchen.com.
Many restaurants offer lobster specials during open season, pleasing those who enjoy dining out. Touted as “Cayman’s Premium Waterfront Dining Restaurant,” Grand Old House in Grand Cayman boasts a proud history, stunning views and spectacular cuisine. Here, you can choose to indulge in pan-roasted lobster served with potato gratin and scallion in a creamy chardonnay sauce or opt for the lighter Caribbean Lobster Salad mixed with local mango, coconut milk, avocado sorbet and more. For a Caribbean style, head to Over the Edge, in North Side. This oceanfront Caribbean restaurant will impress with its big flavour, island decor, sweeping views and sea breeze.
Folks looking to enjoy a fine-dining experience are encouraged to try Catch Restaurant & Lounge, in West Bay — known for its freshly caught local fish, beautiful scenery and glamorous atmosphere. Note that lobster supply will be limited at all restaurants during open season, as there are strict take limits to conserve stock. Calling ahead is recommended if you have your heart set on the dish.
All About Conch
Conch, a mollusk, is also a local delicacy, sharing an open season with lobster. Conch’s season runs a little longer, spanning November 1 to April 30. Bothwell continues, “The legal daily limit for possessing conch during open season is five per person or 10 per boat each day, whichever is less.” As with lobster, conch must also not be taken from marine parks or Wildlife Interaction Zones; and gloves, spears and hook sticks are banned.
Ask local foodies their favourite way to enjoy conch and be prepared for an argument. Conch ceviche, conch fritters and stewed conch are each equally popular and readily available from many different restaurants. Conch must be “cracked” to access the edible portion and cleaned before it can be transformed into one of these dishes.
Want to try conch? Head to West Bay to visit Cracked Conch. This established restaurant takes its name from the dish and has some of the best on island. Those that want a more relaxed atmosphere will enjoy Macabuca, Cracked Conch’s on-site dive bar.
Author: Stacie Sybersma