Every summer my family, and I mean my whole family—brothers, sisters, parents; my children, their children—get together beach-side to play and laugh and drink and eat. I cook almost every night (it’s how I express myself), usually fish that my father catches in the morning, simple pastas with fresh ingredients, sometimes just really good burgers. But one night—the night that usually ends up being my favorite of the whole vacation– we devote to lobster. Fresh lobster trapped just that morning, purchased from the fishmonger up the road. God, I love lobster. It’s one of my favorite foods—I think because it’s such a perfect vehicle for butter. I love the claws, rich and velvety.
We cook it at home, too, probably twice a month, and always on Monday nights so the whole family takes part—the boys separating the claws and tails from the body, Jacqueline working on the salad, all of us around the butcher block with aprons and knives. I shared this with a friend of mine recently who couldn’t believe we spend that kind of money and go to all that trouble for a Monday night dinner.
Two myths are at play there: one, lobster is not all that expensive (halibut’s about $14 a pound at the store right now; tuna’s $18—lobster goes for $11) and two it’s really, really easy to make. Here’s how:
Source it: In Denver, I always use one of the Asian markets—my favorites are Pacific Ocean on Alameda or Pacific Mercantile on Federal. I liken choosing a lobster to choosing fresh vegetables—look for vibrant color and a medium to small size, because a larger body usually indicates less flavor and tougher texture. While looking in the tanks, try to pick a lively, moving fella. When he’s lifted from the water, his flippers should flip defensively; a good weight is between 1¼ and 1¾ pounds. Once you procure your lobsters bring them home for the carnage and feasting.
Killing the lobster: the quickest way is to use a good, sharp knife and remove his head. The claws and the tail cook at different rates, so it doesn’t make sense to plunge the entire thing into a pot of boiling water.
Cooking: You will need: a timer, two 1-gallon pots, one 2-gallon pot (preferably double boilers), and a clean sink full of ice water. (sounds like a lot of big pots, but the process couldn’t be simpler). Set two gallons lightly salted water on high heat. While the water is coming up to temperature, separate the claws from the body—use a towel for a good grip and just pull them right off . Set the claws in one empty gallon pot. Remove the tail the same way—just twist/break it right off—and put it in a separate empty one gallon pot. You can discard the body, though I always use it for stock (I’ll address lobster stock in another posting!)
Your water should be near boiling about now—once it hits a full, rapid boil, pour the water over the claws in the one bucket (covering by 2-3 inches) and the tails in the other (covering by 2-3 inches). At this point, set your timer: if you have a 1¼ pound lobster, let the water sit over the tail for 6 minutes and the claws for 8 (8 minutes for tails and 10 for claws if the lobster is 1¾ pounds).
When the timer goes off, plunge the meat in iced water to stop the cooking. Let them rest for a couple of minutes until cooled. Remove from water, repeat for claws.
Time to remove the shells: The easiest way is to take a simple pair of kitchen shears and cut right through the bottom of the tail. Use your hands to spread the shell apart from either side and the meat should fall right out. For the claws, use the back of a knife to crack the claw shells, and then remove the shell from the meat along the crack lines (the way you’d remove a shell from a cracked hard-boiled egg)
Now serve: the lobster meat is about medium-rare at this point—perfect for simply dipping in warm butter & or lemon, or tossing into a buttered linguine. If you decide to refrigerate and re-heat later, just toss the meat in warm bubbly butter and heat just through—a minute or two.
I should probably take back what I said about lobster not being too expensive, because I approach it with a glutton’s eye—I always buy at least one for every person who’s eating, even if that person weighs 45 pounds. When we’re at the shore, we sit on the dock afterwards, cocktails perched on swollen bellies, kids running and laughing with butter slicked faces in the setting sun. I go back into the kitchen from time to time, illuminated by the light of the open fridge, enjoying just one more claw. No dessert tonight, thank you. Just one more claw . . .