Western Rocklobster

Panulirus cygnus

Other names: West Australian crayfish, western cray.

Family: Palinuridae (spiny lobsters).

Description:

Available wild-caught, these marine crustaceans are closely related to Tropical Rocklobsters. Found from Shark Bay to Albany, WA they are endemic to Australia. They shelter under rocks, on ledges and among coral to depths of 200m, although commonly 35-60m. By far the most valuable commercial species in Australia (worth over half the value of total Australian finfish catch), they are caught mainly in pots and mostly exported live or frozen to Japan, Taiwan or China. They are less colourful than Tropical Rocklobsters, their reddish-purple shell (pale pink if freshly moulted) has fine fur on it, their antennae are very long and the flagella on the medium-length antennules between the antennae are also long and forked (though not as long as those on the Tropical). Rocklobsters are mostly active after dark and are carnivorous scavengers, feeding on bottom-dwelling invertebrates.

Season: Supplies peak from December to May, with closure from July to November.

Size and Weight: Commonly 8-10cm and 500g-1kg, though they have reached 5.5kg.

Price: High priced.

Relations:

Eastern Rocklobster, Southern Rocklobster, Tropical Rocklobster, Champagne Lobster.

To Buy:

Sold whole and as tails. Look for brightly coloured, firm, intact, lustrous shells, without any discolouration, particularly at joints, and a pleasant fresh sea smell. If possible buy live, avoid green (raw, dead) Rocklobsters (except for frozen tails) as it's hard to tell how long they’ve been dead.

To Store:

Live crustaceans should be consumed as soon as possible after purchase. Place in a container, cover with damp paper or cloth and keep in the warmest part of the refrigerator, which is usually the crisper (optimum 5°C). Wrap dead Rocklobsters in plastic wrap or place in an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months below -18ºC.

To Cook:

Average yield is 35% of total weight (almost entirely in the tail) and up to 45% in small specimens. Has a sweet rich flavour, low oiliness and moist, medium-firm flesh, which is translucent when raw and white with orange tinges when cooked. Leg meat is often a little sweeter than tail meat. Shells turn red when cooked. The most humane, and easiest, method of killing any crustacean is to chill it in the freezer for about 45 minutes until it becomes insensible (but not long enough to freeze it). Once chilled, it should be killed promptly by splitting in half or dropping into rapidly boiling water. See www.rspca.org.au for more details.

Cooking Methods:

Steam, poach, deep-fry, pan-fry, stir-fry, bake, grill, barbecue, raw (sashimi). Rocklobsters from cooler waters (such as Western) are preferred for cooking. The firm flesh holds together well during most cooking methods. Undercook, rather than overcook, them, as they will continue cooking in the residual heat; overcooked Rocklobster will become tough and leathery. The carapace can be used to flavour stocks, soups and sauces.

Goes well with:

Butter, cayenne, coconut, cream, dill, French tarragon, garlic, lemon, lime, mustard, Pernod, white wine.

Alternatives:

Crabs, Bugs, Prawns, other Rocklobsters.

Imports:

Tropical Rocklobsters, tails and whole cooked (chilled and frozen), are imported from Chile, Cuba, Mexico, Papua New Guinea and India. Southern Rocklobsters are imported from New Zealand.

Recipes:

Barbecued Lemongrass Rocklobster with Cucumber & Carrot Salad >
Rocklobster Salad with Radish, Orange & Mint >
Pan-fried Rocklobster with Verjuice >
Rocklobster Thermidor >
Rocklobster & Herb Salad with Asian Dressing >