You probably assume the crustacean you're about to tuck into is from local waters. However, it seems UAE chefs prefer imported lobsters from Canada. But why?
Canadian lobster: UAE chefs' seafood secrets
If you’re eating in a high-end restaurant, it’s unlikely you’ll be eating an Omani lobster; in the UAE the majority of lobsters are sourced from the cold north Atlantic coast and are shipped over from Canada (or, less frequently, Maine).
The reasons for this vary; chefs’ tastes certainly play a part – lobsters sourced from warm waters have a different flavour and texture to cold - water varieties – as do sustainability and consistency issues.
Syrus Antony of Gulf Seafood LLC, a company that supplies hotels and restaurants across the GCC with imported produce, explains that the quality of Omani lobsters can vary wildly, which makes them a difficult ingredient to work with and says that, by comparison, “Canadian lobsters from the Atlantic cold waters have a sweeter taste and the meat is more tender and not as firm”. It also should be pointed out that, because of their lack of claws, spiny or rock lobsters (like Omani ones) are not in fact “true” lobsters. The term Canadian lobster, meanwhile, refers to the homarus americanus species of lobster caught in Canadian waters.
In recent years, the UAE has come to be regarded as a small but important target market for Canadian produce. In 2008, The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service in the UAE stated that lobster and scallops had become the two fastest-growing Canadian seafood exports to the country; according to a recent Statistics Canada report, in 2011 91,231kg of lobster (live and frozen) were exported to the Emirates.
“The UAE is a niche market for live lobster and for a strong quantity of frozen Canadian lobster,” explains Geoff Irvine, the executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada. He adds: “There is an expectation for top-quality live and processed products in the region, which is why Canadian companies have been able to build this market. To me, this is an important niche market to continue to pursue and expand with new types of processed products and premium-quality live lobster.”
It seems that a number of leading chefs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi agree with him. Jean-Luc Morcellet the executive chef at The Palace The Old Town in Dubai, says that while Omani lobsters have their place – he recommends them for home cooking – he uses homarus americanus lobsters from Canada at the hotel.
At La Mer, the seafood restaurant at the Sofitel Abu Dhabi Corniche, the chef de cuisine Matthew J Bilinski says that when it comes to lobsters, thanks to their sweet, clean taste and meaty texture, the Canadian variety will always be his first choice. He also stresses that the price point for this ingredient is justified. “Having worked on Prince Edward Island, where many of the Canadian lobsters come from, and having physically gone out on the lobster boats, I can say that the price is very reasonable. It is not the easiest job in the world and it requires long hours of back-breaking work.”
Cladys Magagna, the recently appointed executive chef at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in Abu Dhabi, also uses the ingredient widely. He agrees with Bilinski that the high quality of the product justifies the cost: “In addition to it being a great product, the distribution channels exist here to make the import of Canadian lobster very easy and straightforward. From a taste perspective, the meat is exceptionally tender.”
Bilinski, Magagna and Morcellet all receive regular airfreight deliveries of live lobsters (stored in styrofoam or cardboard boxes, complete with gel or ice packs to maintain a low temperature) from specialist seafood import and delivery companies such as Gulf Seafood and JustFood International. When they reach the hotels, they are kept in temperature-controlled water tanks, until needed.
Omar Darsouni, the managing partner of JustFood International, explains that in terms of reaching the UAE in a good condition, the lobster’s hard shell actually acts as a form of protection and makes this variety very suitable for live shipping. “When shipping hard-shell lobster from Canada to the Middle East, the expected mortality rate is between one to three per cent. Other types of lobster (for example from the US) experience up to eight per cent mortality rate.”
Where to eat Canadian lobster in the UAE
- The Japanese restaurant Honyaki in Madinat Jumeirah serves lobster maki rolls and the Canadian lobster tempura with udon noodle salad pictured (for recipe, see right).
- Munch lobster for brunch (grilled with fresh herbs) at The Palace The Old Town in Dubai or enjoy in ceviche form at Asado.
- La Mer in Abu Dhabi serves it in a variety of ways, one of which is lobster bisque with a vanilla bean air.
- Seared sea scallops and lobster, served with grilled leek purée, chanterelle mushrooms and braised celery is one of the best-selling dishes at the Marco Pierre White Steakhouse & Grill at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr.
- You can purchase whole lobster (and see them live in their tanks) at Lafayette Gourmet in Galeries Lafayette, Dubai Mall, Dh175 per kilo. LuLu Hypermarket and Waitrose in Dubai and Abu Dhabi also stock Canadian lobsters but supply is not constant.
Honyaki’s Canadian lobster tempura with udon noodle salad (Serves: 2)
1 Canadian lobster (approx 600gm)
1 packet udon noodles
100g baby carrots
80g courgette (green or yellow)
30g red radish
30g daikon (white radish)
30g tempura flour, plus extra for dusting
vegetable oil for deep frying
mentsuyu sauce (noodle dipping sauce) or soy sauce
Poach the lobster in boiling water for seven minutes, then remove from the pot and refresh in ice-cold water.
Once the lobster has fully cooled, carefully remove the meat from the claws and tail and set aside. Clean and reserve the lobster head to later use as garnish (optional).
Slice the carrots, celery, courgette and radish into thin strips using a sharp knife or mandolin. Cut the daikon into thin strips.
Cook the noodles in boiling water and drain well.
To make the tempura batter, place the flour in a large bowl. Gradually whisk in enough ice-cold water to produce a thick batter.
Fill a deep, heavy-based saucepan three-quarters full with vegetable oil and place over a medium-high heat. When you can feel a strong heat rising from the pan or a cube of bread turns golden brown in 15 seconds, lightly dust each of the lobster claws with flour before dipping into the batter and coating well on both sides.
Add the claws to the oil and fry for two to three minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with kitchen paper. Cut the lobster tail meat that you set aside earlier into small pieces.
Tip the noodles into a large bowl and mix in the tail meat, sliced vegetables and mentsuyu sauce. Pile on to individual plates and serve the tempura claws on the side. The reserved lobster head can be used as decoration if you wish.