When I think about lobster, I think about sandy feet on the wooden deck of a beach house. I think about melted butter – real butter – warm and gorgeous and waiting to coat something delicious. I think about large and steaming stock pots and mouth-watering side dishes, such as corn on the cob and potato salad. I think about the appetizing succulence of fresh seafood and how fortunate I was to have grown up in New England, where we ate lobster all summer long.
I also think about the first time I ever boiled a lobster. As with most things we dread, the anxiety was much worse than the act. The logistics of boiling the crustacean were not nearly as ghastly as the apprehension I had about cooking it. Don’t listen to the myths about the screaming or the pain or the terror. You can cook a lobster without worry. Dipping a live creature into a pot of boiling water is not fun, but it’s not horrific either.
The first thing you need to do is find a supplier of great lobsters. Shop with a local fishmonger if that is possible. If you live in a place without one, you can buy a lobster from a live tank, but make sure the lobster looks healthy and vital. Lobsters are not social creatures, and they get irritated and combative when stuck in a tank with other lobsters. Ask the fishmonger or supermarket associate to lift the lobster out of the tank for you. If it curls in towards itself, that’s a good lobster. If it hangs there all depressed and lackluster, that lobster is probably not going to taste as good as it could.
I know people who buy their lobsters online. You can buy them right from Maine and have them shipped to your home. Keep in mind that your shipping charges will be expensive. Not because the lobster is getting a first class ticket and checking a lot of luggage, but because they will have to be shipped overnight if you want them fresh and alive.
Now, it’s time to cook. Boil some water in a large stock pot. I like to add a lemon or two to the water. Simply squeeze the lemon juice into the water, and then drop the rinds right in. Some people combine bay leaves, thyme and other herbs in their water. I like to keep it simple with the water and the lemon, but feel free to experiment.
Your lobsters probably came home with rubber bands around their claws, to prevent them from attacking you or making a break for it. When you are ready to cook them, snip the bands off the claws with a pair of scissors. Once you have a rapid boil going in your pot, pick up your lobster (I like to grab it with a dish towel, or while I’m wearing over mitts) and drop it into the pot head first. Place a lid on the stock pot and let your lobster boil for about 15 minutes.
There will be no screaming. When I cooked my first lobster, I waited with a pained and murderous expression and yet I heard nothing. I had been feeling guilty because my disapproving friends told me that lobsters can feel pain. Upon further research of my own, it turns out that lobsters’ brains are similar in size and cognitive abilities to a grasshopper. They do not actually feel pain. They might shrug and wonder if it’s getting warm in here, but their wee brains are unable to identify pain. So, if you are not fundamentally opposed to killing insects, boiling a lobster should offer you no moral conundrums. If you do hear a noise, you are hearing steam being released from the area between the body and the shell. Lobsters, in addition to not being very bright, lack vocal chords. So, you see the screaming is impossible.
A one or two pound (500g – 1kg) lobster will take about 15 or 20 minutes to cook. If you are cooking up to six or seven pounds (2.7 – 3.2kg) of lobster, plan on letting them boil for almost half an hour. You will know your lobster is done because it will be bright red. You can also pull on the antennae and if it comes off easily, the lobster is properly boiled.
Tie on your bib, crack open that shell and enjoy some healthy and delicious lobster. Let yourself get messy. Let yourself eat butter. And congratulate yourself on cooking your very first lobster.