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Barbarian-style Lobster

With ease I can count at least half a dozen people I know who are very squeamish about handling raw chicken.  Imagine what would happen if we set the homemaking clock back a hundred years and the majority of us were still dispatching our own chickens?  Preposterous?  Sure, a little bit, but we still take lobsters from living to food in our own kitchens.  Granted chicken is an every-week sort of meal while lobster is a once or twice a year kind of thing that the faint of heart can skip.  As part of my ongoing series of posts about cooking my Foodbuzz 24X24 meal in honour of Terry Fox I’m going to share my new method for cooking lobster.

Other than oysters, these lobsters are the only multi-cell organism (therefore not counting the yeasts and moulds in bread, wine, and cheese) that I have dispatched in the kitchen so it makes sense to pay some attention to how humanely the job is done.  I believe Jeffrey Steingarten and others when they say that the best way is to plunge a heavy knife through the lobster’s head.  They don’t have a central nervous system and feel pain through eight decentralised ganglia so it’s important the cutting is not a timid nip to the nose but severs them completely–nose (speaking topographically since lobsters don’t have noses like we do) to where the tail meets the thorax, as quickly as possible.  Clearly the old routine of freezing them briefly (to dull the pain, we’re told), throwing them into boiling water, slapping a lid on, and leaving the room is not the same thing.

Equipment setup in the outdoor kitchen. Preparation is key, as always.

Now that our lobsters are dead the question of how we are going to cook them presents itself.  Steaming seems to be the choice of afficianados–bonus points are given if seawater is used and double bonus points if the rocks lining the pot’s bottom come from the Atlantic Ocean–but I’m not sure this method is best.  Most directions call for creating a steamy in-pot environment, throwing the lobsters in and slapping the lid on for the whole prescribed time.  The problem that occurs to me is that the lobsters at the top of the pot will be exposed to a less intense heat than those at the bottom.

Tails go in one large bowl, claws in the other.

Chef Frank Bonanno has a great video (annoying and predictable music aside) on Protein University that details his method of cooking lobster.  Watch the video, but to summarise the steps are:

  1. Kill lobster(s).
  2. Pull off claws and tails and separate them into two large bowls or pots.
  3. Pour vigorously boiling, salted water into each of the bowls to cover lobster parts.  Remove the tails after six minutes to an ice bath and the claws after eight.
  4. Once the lobsters have cooled thoroughly remove from ice bath and remove shells using the usual method.

Cooked meat ready for the fridge.

It now seems obvious that because of their different shape, size, and function the claws of a lobster will cook differently than those in his tail just like how the white and dark meat of chicken cook at different rates.  As well, as more accurately controlling cooking times this method, by using salted water, introduces seasoning into the process that you wouldn’t get with steaming.  With the added dismemberment step (not to mention having to accurately pour a lot of boiling water) this regime is probably not well-suited to children or those with pacemakers.

Tempura lobster pieces served on Ontario yellow corn, with onions, and bacon.

After removing the meat from the shells I stored it in glass tupperware with a tightly-sealed lid in the fridge for two days.  If it weren’t for logistical concerns that necessitated this lead time I would have preferred to do the cooking closer to meal time but, frankly, I couldn’t detect any deterioration between what we ate on Saturday and the bits I sampled on Thursday.  I reheated the lobster pieces by dipping them in a light tempura batter and deep-frying them but I imagine butter poaching would have worked just as well.  Hell, even cold this stuff is delicious.

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  1. CallieK says:

    But what about the rest of the lobster? The body meat, the tomally, the roe? That method assumes you’re discarding 1/3 of the lobster and some of the best parts!

  2. foodwithlegs says:

    Hi Callie, thanks for reminding me…I fried the tomalley and roe in a little butter and ate it on toast as a “chef’s choice” snack. The body meat remains attached to the shells, in the freezer, waiting to be turned into lobster bisque. For both body meat and roe lobsters in this weight class (average 1 1/4) don’t seem to have that much of either.

  3. Sheryl says:

    I was always taught to avoid the knife to the head method – if you don’t hit exactly the right spot the lobster releases a toxin that makes the meat pretty sour and tough.

    Also, the freezer method has been debunked – it actually takes longer for a lobster that has been partially frozen to die in boiling water, since its core temperature is lower.

    Head first into the pot. Either apologize when you’re doing it and accept the karma that comes with it, or justify it by telling yourself they’re the cockroaches of the sea.

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