Cooking Live Lobster
Few things top many lists of the most popular food for special occasions like lobster does. Most often lobster is ordered in restaurants, perhaps because they are large and perceived to be difficult to prepare at home for many home cooks. Cooking a lobster is the easy part. The key is buying the best lobster product.
Most supermarkets these days sell a variety of lobster products including fresh frozen lobster tails and whole live lobsters. I don’t normally purchase frozen lobster tails. I find them tough, dry and sometimes overly salty. The processing steps destroy the freshness. Unless you are lucky enough to have a fish market that sells fresh (as in “never frozen”) tails, a whole fresh lobster will result in a better tasting end result. Bigger is not necessarily better with fresh whole lobsters. The most common size for a Maine lobster purchased from a supermarket lobster tank will normally be 1 ¼ to 2 ½ pounds. Lobsters under 2 pounds tend have sweeter and more tender tail meat. A 1 ½ pound lobster will feed one person. Those rubber bands around the claws are there to protect the other lobsters in the tank as well as you. Don’t remove them till after the lobster is cooked.
Cooking a live lobster in a humane fashion is desirable. A lobster can be rendered the equivalent of unconscious prior to cooking by placing it in a roasting pan large enough to contain it and putting it in your freezer for 45-60 minutes prior to cooking without negatively impacting the quality of the flesh (just make certain your lobster doesn’t actually freeze solid). Even quicker, just plunge the tip of a sharp chef’s knife straight down right behind the lobster’s eyes (if it helps, lobsters don’t have brains). This immobilization step is an optional personal matter of choice.
Lobsters tend to curl up at the tail when cooked live and if you are after a lobster that lays flat on the plate for a nice presentation—slip 2 long bamboo skewers (the kind used for shish kabobs) lengthwise through the length of the tail to keep it rigid—this is totally optional but something I like to do.
Whether you choose to immobilize your lobster prior to cooking by cooling it or not, you have a choice of cooking methods that will yield a sweet, succulent, tender lobster. The most popular method is plunging it head first into a very large pan of rapidly boiling, salted water (1 tablespoon salt per quart) head first and boiling for 15-20 minutes for a 1 ½ lb lobster.
Steaming in the oven is another easy method. This is a good method for cooking 2 or more lobsters at a time. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place 2 sliced lemons on a cookie sheet with sides or in a baking pan large enough to hold the lobsters and lay the lobsters on top of the lemons (I can fit 2 lobsters on my cookie sheets laid head to tail). Sprinkle the lobsters with 1 cup water, lemon juice or white wine and cover the entire cookie sheet tightly with aluminum foil to keep as much steam in the pan as possible. Place the cookie sheet in the oven and cook for 45 minutes for two 1 ½ pound lobsters (30 minutes for one lobster). Remove from the oven and carefully remove the foil to avoid the escaping steam.
They can also be grilled which is a great option if you are doing a “surf and turf” and will also be grilling steak. Par-boil lobsters in boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove the lobsters and immediately put into a large pot/bowl of cold water to stop the cooking. A kitchen sink full of water and ice cubes works fine. Drain the lobsters and store in the refrigerator if you do not plan to grill them right away. Using a sharp knife, flip the lobster upside down and slice the lobster down the middle. Remove the black vein from the tail, the greenish tomalley from the body and the sand sac located near the head. Baste the lobster meat with a bit of melted garlic butter. Grill the lobsters flesh side down for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the flesh is just beginning to look opaque. Turn the lobsters over, baste with more garlic butter and continue to cook for 4 to 5 minutes longer, or until the lobsters are cooked through. Do not overcook! Overcooked grilled lobster can become very tough. A perfectly grilled lobster is tender and moist.
The next method, pan roasting, is often used in restaurants, especially to achieve a highly seasoned dish with a bit of sauce. Remove the claws, twist off the tail and cut it in half. Heat a large sauté pan or wok over high heat and using your choice of oil and seasonings quickly stir fry the parts until cooked through; many great recipes can be found on line by Googling “pan roast lobster”.
A perfectly cooked lobster is best served simply. Melted butter, with or without a sliver or two of fresh garlic in it for dipping, some nice hot crusty bread and a fresh green salad makes a lovely, elegant meal. A few tools will make working through a lobster easier. Small wooden mallets like those used for eating east coast steamed blue crabs are useful for cracking the claws. Nut picks are handy for extracting meat in the claw joints.
In the summertime fresh, locally grown sweet corn,fresh green salad and a good crusty bread all go well with lobster. There are some fantastic crisp, sparkling Pinot Grigio wines (some very good ones under $10.00 a bottle!) that pair extremely well with the richness of a lobster served with butter.