Tomalley or Not Tomalley

As promised, I am determined to have a few words about Maine food. I’ve been thinking about what to write about and I’m having trouble because although I have plenty to say on the subject of haddock (a wonderful fish similar to cod), wild blueberries (smaller and more flavorful than the ones you buy at the supermarket)  and lobsters, I have no pictures of anything I ate. The brilliant me decided not to pack a camera so now I’m confronted with writing a food post with zero photos. I feel like I’m committing some sort of food blog sacrilege, for what’s the use of a food post without the food porn photos that go with it?

I decided this particular post will benefit by having no visual examples of what I would like to discuss and that is the topic of tomalley, the mysterious green stuff inside a lobster’s body. It’s hardly a lovely sight to behold.

Lobsters are an everyday aspect of life in Maine, or at least where I was, in Augusta. Nearly every restaurant has lobster rolls, or fresh-steamed lobsters or at least something lobster-related like lobster chowders or stews. Even the local Panera had a beautiful lobster roll — fat chunks of lobster lightly dressed in mayonnaise and nestled on tender ciabatta bread.

All in all, I was lucky to get my fill of lobster during the trip. During a twilight picnic with steamed lobsters, I was further enlightened by the creature’s allure. As we cracked open the hard red shells, a co-worker mentioned the subject of eating (or not eating) the tomalley, or tomale. I instinctively felt that I should avoid eating the strange pasty stuff but I was quickly informed that the strange pasty stuff is prized by some lobster eaters.

True crustacean aficionados would argue that tomalley is a rather delectable, if not best part of the body. I can’t say that I fit into this category, especially after discovering the reason why tomalley is typically forbidden is because it’s toxic in some instances. Also, the greenish gray color throws me off. It is enough to make me squeamish — I had a hard time even ripping the lobster’s head off!

On another note, tomalley is not exclusive to lobster and is akin to crab as well. My family loves crab and I think they are among the true crustacean aficionado crowd because eating the abdomen (and thus the accompanying tomalley) is the ultimate dessert to their crab dinner. Unlike lobster tomalley, crab tomalley is a deep ochre-yellow, almost brown color. A cousin of mine once rapturously advised that I put rice and melted butter in the crab body’s cavity, mix it around and eat/savor it that way. Sort of like a crab tomalley risotto, if you will. It takes a fair amount of courage for me to even crack open the body and remove the guts. To proceed with eating the tomalley is something I need to work on. But I love the legs and claws!

So what category do you fit in? Would you eat the tomalley for the sake of fulfilling the gourmandise spirit, or will you chicken-out like me? I think I need to learn how to fully confront the lobster (or crab)!


  1. ryan says:

    i love the guts and brain.

    your euphemism for these parts is much fancier.

  2. Christine says:

    I don’t think the stuff is the brain, though I guess that sounds a lot cooler.

  3. cathy says:

    i would chicken-out. :)

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