Lobster has long been associated with fine-dining luxury and lavish cruise ship buffets, rather than the kind seafood most Australians feel comfortable preparing at home.
However, with restaurants closed and local lobster costing much less than usual, there has perhaps never been a better time to make the spiny crustacean king of the table.
"We've been in touch with lobster fishers at the San Remo and Apollo Bay fish co-ops to see how we can help get their product into more home kitchens," says James Marinopoulos, sales manager at Red Coral Seafoods in Bayswater.
"They've been doing it tough down there since the coronavirus put a stop to most seafood exports, so we decided to buy a load of southern rock lobsters and promote them for Mother's Day. I mean, is there a better way to let Mum know you love her than with lobster?"
Red Coral's "lobsterpalooza" promotion includes a home-delivered whole lobster and Dominique Portet chardonnay deal for $171, plus a special Mother's Day pack featuring wine, prawns, oysters, sashimi, half a lobster and other premium seafood priced at $220.
"The Mother's Day packs have been selling like hotcakes," says Marinopoulos.
Around 90 per cent of southern rock lobsters (frequently also called crayfish) caught by Victorian fishers are exported to high-end restaurants around the world.
When seafood shipments to China were cancelled in late January due to coronavirus restrictions, lobster fishers were one of the first groups to be significantly affected.
"Lobsters were the canary in the coal mine in terms of the impact COVID-19 would go on to have," says Markus Nolle, president of the Victorian Rock Lobster Association and director of Apollo Bay Fishermen's Co-op.
There are around 80 Victorian lobster boats and most stopped fishing on January 21.
"Now we're trying to get started again," says Nolle. "However because the export market is so uncertain, it's become important to encourage greater domestic demand for our product."
Prized for its sweet, clean flavour, southern rock lobster is currently retailing for around $110 a kilogram, compared to $150 before the pandemic.
Red Coral is selling its crayfish packs through the Melbourne Food Squad online marketplace, while Sunshine West's Ash Bros and Clamms in Yarraville are both delivering fresh (not frozen) southern rock lobsters across Melbourne too. Lobsters will be cleaned and cooked so they're ready for home use on Mother's Day.
"If people see next Sunday as an opportunity to spoil mum with fresh seafood, that's awesome," says Johnathon Davey, executive director of Seafood Industry Victoria, which represents the interests of professional fishers.
Great value can also be found with Victorian abalone, sea urchin, King George whiting and Corner Inlet rock flathead, he says.
"It's just a matter of visiting your local fishmonger and asking them 'what's local?'. There is so much more opportunity to eat Victorian seafood in Victoria, rather than exporting it."
How to serve lobster at home
First-time lobster cooks should consider buying their crustacean pre-cooked and humanely killed to minimise the potential of things becoming too Annie Hall in the kitchen. There's also little need to spend a lot of money on accompaniments - as a general rule, the more expensive an ingredient, the less that needs to be done to it. A lobster split lengthways and served with melted butter, crusty bread and lemon is pretty much perfect, however myriad recipes exist.
"The best way to serve lobster is by slicing the head into two or three pieces, and cutting the tail into five shell-on medallions," says chef Stephen Hodges, co-author of the Australian Fish and Seafood Cookbook.
"Seal the pieces for a minute in foaming butter in a deep ovenproof pan before adding your choice of garnishes such as ginger, garlic, chilli, spring onion and black pepper. Season with salt, cover with half a cup of fish stock, and whack everything in a 200-degree oven for four minutes. Serve the lobster medallions in the pan or transfer to a platter. How quick is that?"