When I went to North Carolina last month, I brought down 10, 2 lb. live lobsters as a belated Father’s Day present for my dad. Most good fishmongers and seafood markets around here will package live lobsters for transport and/or ship them via Fed Ex (just Google Boston live lobster, you’ll have lots of choices). In my case, I checked my “bugs” as luggage, but someone else on my flight with fewer to feed had brought a small box of them on the plane and stored them in the overhead compartment.
Being from Boston, I didn’t think much of traveling with a posse of crustaceans. However, when I retrieved my box in Charlotte, I was surprised by the number of people who approached me in the airport to ask if there were really lobsters in there. My grandmother was similarly tickled when we arrived. In those parts finding crawdads in the creek is a popular pastime and she thought we should bring one of the lobsters down and tell folks we’d found a record-breaking crawdad. I assured her we’d probably scar some poor child for life.
Of course when I got there, I realized Grand Mother’s turkey pot was not nearly big enough to hold even a fraction of our lobsters. We also only had one nut cracker. I ended up driving to a restaurant supply store in Asheville to buy a stockpot. That night at a newspaper-covered table overlooking the Appalachian mountains, I gave a lobster eating tutorial to friends and family who had never eaten a whole lobster.
It’s a luxury I take for granted living here in Boston. Last week, I stopped by my condo and found these babies in a bucket on my back porch. A friend had wrangled them from a guy in town who has a lobster boat, and dropped them off while I was at work.
As I cooked them, it occurred to me that what’s second-nature to us here in the Bay State, might not be to others. While it’s perhaps a bit unpleasant to cook your own lobster, it also has some advantages. For example, local grocery stores sell lobster for about $8 a pound, while a lobster dinner at a Boston restaurant is apt to cost you $20-plus. And it’s a lot more fun to eat with your hands at home than it is to do it in a restaurant. It’s a great dinner party for out-of-town guests. And for many, cooking a lobster is one of the few opportunities to watch a creature go from living organism to tasty meal up close. (Though you may not want to inflict this experience on your guests… I once had a girl go vegetarian after watching a lobster boil. She even returned her uncooked lobster to the sea.)
For those of you who think this might be fun, but aren’t sure where to start, I’ve set up a little tutorial on how to cook (and eat) a lobster. Here goes.
1. Get your stuff together. You’re going to need a pot big enough to cook the lobsters, and some tools to facilitate eating: a nut cracker for cracking claws and a skewer for poking meat out of knuckles (the best part!). Also, newspaper or a plastic table cloth to protect the table. Optional items: clarified butter and lemon.
2. Boil the water. Some chefs swear by steaming lobsters as it enables a drier meal, but I advocate for a boil as it kills the lobsters quicker. Fill your pot with enough water to submerge the lobsters, cover it, and put it on high heat until it comes to a rolling boil.
3. When the water is boiling aggressively, it’s ready for the lobsters. Remove the lid, pick your lobsters up by the back of the neck (or where their necks would be if they had them) and toss them into the pot head first. Replace the cover and wait. Your lobster won’t scream, and if you do it right won’t even have time to move around. Depending on the size of your pot, you might have to cook your lobsters in batches… you want the lobsters to be submerged and to cook as quickly as possible.
4. How long you cook your lobster depends on it’s size. A “chicken” lobster (which weighs a pound or less) only needs about 10 minutes, while two-pounders take more like 15. Use a pair of tongs to remove your lobster from the pot and set it on a large cookie sheet or pan. You’ll notice your lobsters have changed color. They are also full of near-boiling water and will hence be rather hot. Don’t pick them up with your bare hands.
Now comes the fun part: eating. This process can be broken down into tow parts, the front and the back. The front consists of the claws and the knuckles, but not the head.
Use a cracker to break into the claws and knuckles. You might also need a skewer or chop stick to push the meat out. These morsels are small, but I think they’re tastiest.
Next is the tail. It’s meatier and has a tougher texture than the claws. To remove it, straighten the tail out and pull it with a twisting motion. Use a cracker mid-way through the tail to get through the shell. This should make it easy to remove the meat in one big piece.
Before you take a bite, you probably want to remove the “vein” that runs through the lobster tail (hint: it’s not really a vein). To find it, either cut the center of your tail with a knife, or pull on the flap of meat in the center of the tail. You should see something like this. Remove it.
Now your lobster tail is ready to be savored.
Some people like to save the lobster shells to make stock. Some people like to eat the green gunk in the body cavity, or suck the meat/juice out of the legs. You really can’t go wrong.