Poor man’s lobster usually refers to one of two things. The first is monkfish. Its dense, firm meat is often compared to the texture of lobster meat. The second is a poor man’s lobster recipe which actually is not made from lobster. The recipe name is a bit of a joke because we all know lobster can be quite expensive. Of course, the irony is that lobster was once considered a poor man’s food. How times and food trends change!
Poor man’s lobster is made from whitefish. The fish is cooked in a solution of boiling water, sugar, salt, and lemon which firms and flavors the fish into a lobster-like texture and taste. It’s then served with a side of butter and lemon, the two classic seasonings for lobster.
In a way, it’s really like a mid-Western fish boil recipe. You can serve your Poor Man’s Lobster with classic fish boil sides such as corn on the cob, potatoes, onions, and bread.
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To be perfectly honest, it doesn’t taste exactly like lobster. Let’s face it, nothing does. It’s sort of like the imitation crabmeat version of lobster, but healthier! And with the butter and lemon, it really is quite delicious. And super easy and fun.
Because a poor man’s lobster recipe should include poor man’s lobster! While I do think monkfish is the best choice, other types of whitefish are certainly suitable. Ideally, you want a dense, firm, and meaty whitefish. Most poor man’s lobster recipes recommend cod or halibut. Those are OK but there are more sustainable choices.
Instead of cod, which has been tragically overfished, try a whitefish in the cod family such as Atlantic pollock, hake, or haddock. And instead of halibut, which has been overfished in the Atlantic ocean, try striped bass or dogfish (though this is still rare to find in markets). Pacific halibut is a good choice too. Bluefish, though technically not a whitefish, is another good choice for its full flavor.
Other sustainable whitefish species where I live in New England include black sea bass, scup, tautog, sea robin, tilefish, and swordfish.
Trust me, you want extra butter and lemon in every bite. A fork just won’t cut it here.
Gobs and gobs of glorious butter.
I call it liquid gold.
And please don’t fear the butter. It’s good for you.
The seafood seasoning is optional. (Butter and lemon are not!) You could use a little salt and pepper too. I really like this Frontier Co-op Seafood Seasoning blend. It’s like the organic version of Old Bay seasoning.
Yes, I shot a video recipe for how to make Poor Man’s Lobster! You can also scroll down below the video for a quick summary of steps and a printable recipe.
Cut your whitefish into approximately bite-sized chunks (about 1-inch by 1-inch).
Bring about 2 quarts of water to a boil in a medium-sized stockpot, and add in 3/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup salt, and half of a lemon cut into 2-3 pieces.
Once the water reboils, add in the whitefish. It will sink to the bottom. Once the water reboils again, turn the heat down to a rolling boil and cook for about 5 to 10 minutes, or until the fish float to the surface.
While the fish is cooking, melt half of a stick of butter in a saucepan and cut a lemon into wedges.
When the fish is done, use a slotted spoon to remove the pieces and place them on a paper towel-lined item.
Plate the fish and serve with the sides of butter and lemon. Sprinkle with any seasoning you want like Old Bay, Frontier Co-Op Seafood Seasoning, or a lemon pepper seasoning.
For a full meal, serve with sides such as rice, potatoes, corn on the cob, onions, and greens.
Poor man's lobster is made from whitefish boiled in a solution of sugar, salt, and lemon to give the meat a lobster-like taste and texture. It's super easy and delicious!
Cut whitefish into approximately bite-sized chunks (about 1-inch by 1-inch)
Bring about 2 quarts of water to a boil in a medium-sized stockpot, and add in the sugar, salt, and half of one lemon, cut into 2-3 slices.
Add the whitefish to the boiling water. When the water reboils, turn the heat down to a rolling boil and cook for about 5 to 10 minutes, or until the fish float to the surface.
While the fish is cooking, melt the butter in a saucepan and cut the remaining lemon into wedges.
Plate the fish and serve with the sides of butter and lemon. Sprinkle with any seasoning you want like Old Bay, Frontier Co-Op Seafood Seasoning, or a lemon pepper blend.
Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.
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