Kitchen Experiment: Live Lobster

See the prelude for my opening thoughts for those of you freaking out that this article is about me buying a live creature, killing it in my home, and then consuming its flesh… all in a twelve hour period.

Not going to lie, I was a little nervous about this kitchen experiment. Mainly because of that scene in Julie and Julia, but whatever. Point is, if you’ve never done this before it can be quite intimidating. I’m here to break it down for you with some amazing pictures and color commentary so that you can get it right the first time.

1) To start, you will need to find a place which carries live lobster. I’m going to assume you can do that on your own.

2) Choosing your lobster
There are two kinds of lobster that matter for eating purposes:
Rock Lobster
Not to be confused with the catchy song by the B52’s, Rock Lobster is lobster which lives in warmer waters is typically orangeish/reddish, often has a mottled or spotted appearance, and is typically the cheaper than its cousin, these are the most likely catches in a live tank at a grocery store or non-5 star chain restaurant. Though some people will tell you that rock lobster lacks the consistent flavor of its cold water cousin, three of my top five lobster meals in my lifetime were actually Rock Lobsters. Rock lobsters can have a very sweet taste, and are perfectly fine choices no matter what anyone tells you.

Maine Blue Lobster
These lobsters live in cold water, which gives them a darker and blueish appearance. Maine Blue Lobster is often listed at market price on a menu and can be seen as the quarry on Most Dangerous Catch. They are expensive because they live in cold and gnarly waters. You’re probably not going to see these at your local grocery store, they’re a staple at prime steakhouses and you might see one frozen. Supposedly the cold water makes their meat more succulent, I will say that it tends to make their meat more dense, which you may like, and the taste is more consistent than a Rock Lobster. However, I find that at times the fluffy sweetness of a good Rock Lobster can outweigh my desire for a Maine Blue. On the other hand, my top two lobster meals of my lifetime are Maine Blue and came at the hands of The Summer Shack in Boston, where the lobster had been literally caught hours before, and was cooked on hot plates in a traditional Boston treatment, and at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse so it’s a little unfair to say that the type of lobster was the problem vs. the fact that both restaurants are amazing and well known eating establishments. I’ve also had some very meh Maine Blue lobster.

Other factors to think about:
Size
When choosing your lobster, you want to first choose a poundage that is reasonable to your cooking application. In the case of the lobster you are about to see, we were making a birthday dinner to be shared by three people and we were putting the lobster in chunks in a sauce, so we only got a 1.5 lb lobster. You must realize that lobster meat is removed mainly in the form of the tail and the claws so you’re going to end up with less meat than you think. If eating the lobster with sides as a meal for two, a 1.5 to 2 lb lobster is just fine.

Swiftness
You want your lobster to be healthy so when looking in the tank and choosing, pick a lively one. Also, be sure and choose your lobster over letting the staff choose because they will pick one of the ones at the bottom to get it out of there. I’m not saying it is a guarantee that the lobster will be awful but lobster meat consistency is all about muscle and if it’s not moving much you’re not getting the bang for your buck you could be.

Once you’ve picked your lobster, you will get it placed in a bag and covered in ice. It’s OK, the ice is there to slow down the lobster’s metabolism so that it isn’t crawling out of the bag getting all feisty in your car. The ice does not hurt the lobster.

It should look about like this:
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3) Get the Lobster Home And Keep it Cool
That ice doesn’t last forever, make plans to head home quickly after getting your lobster and if you’re not going to cook it immediately, put the bag with the ice and the lobster in the fridge. Things you don’t want to happen: a lobster on the loose in your house or a dead lobster, as lobster meat when not quickly frozen goes kinda funky.

4) When You’re Ready: RELEASE THE KRACKEN… I MEAN, LOBSTER
Get it out at room temp, cut it’s little rubber bands, and let it move around. You’re about to kill it, let it have a little fun.

Warnings: As the lobster warms up, it will be more feisty, so keep an eye on it. You might also want to be mindful of pets as they might interact with the lobster, and its claws, in less than optimal ways.

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At first the lobster will be a little groggy, so it would at this point be the best time to point out all the cool bits to any kids you might have or if you’re me to take an extensive lobster photo shoot.

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Here’s what the lobster looked like from the top, pretty colors, right?

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The underside of the lobster looks pretty cool, check out all the crazy plates. Did you know that the lobster has a chitinous exoskeleton, which makes it in this way similar to many insects?

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The lobster claw, which contains the most succulent of the meat (the same is true of crabs), is actually very strong and has the thickest parts of the exoskeleton which is why you usually use tools to take it apart.

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Lobsters also have antennae which they use in low light bottom of the sea conditions to feel their way around. They are freakishly long, generally about as long as the lobster’s body and the lobster has no problem moving them every which way, so be aware.

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The tail, the home to the largest amount of meat, is what the lobster uses to propel itself around in the water, which is why it’s muscly, which is why it tastes good. It’s also fairly interesting to look at.

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A better look at the bottom of the lobster showcases the complexity of the creature and the beautiful coloration, this shot also has the lobster splaying out being fairly dramatic.

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Poor emo lobster, it will all be over soon.

We tested the lobster’s warmpth by giving it something to play with. At first, it didn’t grab the pencil with it’s claw, then it did and at first just sort of held it, then later was shaking it around and brandishing it like a weapon.

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Grogginess mostly gone.

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Shaking the pencil made the lobster look more studious than most of my students.

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At the point where it was threatening me, I decided it was the perfect time to put it in the pot.

5) Cooking the Lobster
Despite the previous picture being a clear indicator that the lobster wanted to shank me with a pencil, I still cared for its wellbeing and wanted a quick and simple death.

First, boil some water at a rolling boil with a touch of salt.
Second, pick up the lobster, and turn it upside down, you want the head to go in first because it will cook its brain and it will die before the rest of it hits the water, and will feel limited pain. Drop it in at a 45 degree angle, and as you drop it in lower the heat a little. The lobster may jerk around a little, that’s OK, it’s nerve impulses and reflexes. Push the lobster fully under the water and it should curl up about like this:

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Note that the lobster is now a pinkish red, the heat actually changes the color of the lobster entirely. A Maine Blue lobster will become a bright red lobster, and a rock lobster will become pinky/orangey/red. Note I took this pic just as the lobster had died and the new coloration is in process. The color change indicates that the lobster is both no longer alive and is now cooking. Everything from here is post mortem.

Put the lid on your lobster and let it steam a bit. Alltold for our lobster it took about 10 minutes to cook. Times will differ based on the lobster, if you’re using gas/induction/electric, temperature of your water and your elevation so I’m not here to tell you 7 minutes is a magic number. Do a little research for your area. The next pic will show you what it looks like when it’s done.

5) Post Mortem For Your Now Deceased Lobster
Pull the lobster carcass from the pot using tongs and put it in the sink or on a towel on the counter so you can begin your lobster autopsy.

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Because ours was a Rock Lobster it’s not ridiculously bright red, but pretty close when we pulled it out.

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The first thing you want to do is grab the main body in one hand, the tail in the other and twist opposite directions, this breaks your work up into two manageable pieces that we’re going to process: the tail, and the claws.

Note: I know this seems very sad, but the lobster is already dead and someone does this to the lobster tails you buy in the store and the lobster chunks you eat in your food. It will be okay.

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Use cooking shears to cut up the middle of the topside (the curvier part) of the tail. You will then fold back one side of the shell while simultaneously pulling carefully on the meat. The meat is fragile so you have to pull slowly and evenly or it will tear apart and make this whole process more difficult.

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A success looks like this.

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Then use the shears on the claw, remember it’s thicker on the exoskeleton and use both hands.

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Pull carefully.

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Success!

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The pull off one half of the shell and lift it out method also works just fine, as shown here.

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BAM! Delicious lobster that you just need to add to a dish.

And let’s take a moment to reflect on our sexy sexy lobster:
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