It’s peak lobster season in P.E.I. From now until June, the little island that could will be fishing and shipping sweet, tender, live beauties all across the country. Once considered peasant food because of its abundance, the lobster has become a delicacy, most often associated with celebrations, special occasions, and romantic dinners for two. And, I’ll bet many of us landlubbers have only had lobster when we’ve been out to dinner. It can be intimidating business, killing a living thing with beady black eyes and wiggling legs…lots of ’em. But try and console yourself with this: lobsters are more closely related to insects than animals, and they don’t possess well-developed nervous systems. But still, the debate rages on around the ethics of boiling live lobsters. Some suggest popping them into the freezer for about an hour prior to cooking. This almost shuts everything down completely. Others plunge the tip of a knife through the head, into the “brain”, such that it is. The Asian way is to simply and swiftly chop the live lobster in half. This is the way to go if you’re going to grill or wok cook it in seasonings and sauces. But for this blog, we’re talking boiled lobster dipped in butter.
I enjoy a lobster every now and then. I prefer a freshly boiled Dungeness crab, but I won’t say no to a bit of sweet and tender, claw and tail. It’s fun and messy to dig, poke, suck every last bit of meat you can find from the wee beastie. I think the most delicious lobster dish I’ve ever had was at Senses in the SoHo Metropolitan, in Toronto, where tender chunks of the stuff was butter-poached and tossed with truffled spaghetti. Chef Lin has been generous enough to share his recipe. Now it’s a long one, and perhaps even a bit complex for many home cooks. That’s why I like to leave some things to the professionals. However, if you’re feeling particularly Julie and Julia-ish, then I say, go for it, and let me know how it works out for you! But first, our Lobster 101.
I visited Bronwen Clark, manager of Rodney’s Oyster House in Toronto, and here’s what she had to say about everything from lobster rights to lobster recipes. “We kill our lobsters by boiling them, but if I believed they suffered and it (death) wasn’t instant, I’d change the method we use.” The key is to have as huge a pot as you can manage in a high, high, rolling boil. And always, plunge the critter in head first.
A sure sign of a healthy lobster is a strong, flicking tail. Another thing to look for when purchasing lobster; pull back the elastic band, and if there are deep marks, it’s been out of the ocean too long. Also a dead giveaway are short or uneven antennae. When kept in tight quarters for too long, lobsters will begin to cannibalize each other, and the first thing they go for are the antennae. The shell of a fresh lobster will be good and hard, not soft or spongy.
Here, Bronwen, aka The Lobster Whisperer, as put this bad boy to sleep by stroking its back then standing it on its head. This will make the transition into the water even calmer. A lullaby is optional.
Our lobster is ready to be broken down and eaten, and there is a right way and a wrong way.
This would be the wrong way…
Here’s the right way…
On the back, look for a handy little notch in the shell. This is where you will start your cutting. See, it’s as if Mother Nature herself wanted us to eat lobster!
Push the tip of a good, heavy, chef’s knife just under the notch.
Plunge all the way in, and with your free hand on the back of the knife, push down hard and quick, cutting all the way through the back and tail.
Again, with that chef’s knife, whack the tips off each claw. Make sure your other hand is safely away from the falling blade!
See the two claws here: the one on the left is cleaned up, with the ‘shoulder’ also trimmed, and the lower mandible of the claw pulled down and twisted.
Now, make little slices in the knuckles of the claws (arms).
Here’s a tip: if the meat from this part of the claw is just ever so soft and jiggly, and in perfect condition, then you know the lobster is cooked perfectly. Cook it too long, and it will stick to the inside of the shell, tearing the meat.
Use picks to dig out every last scrap of meat.
Trade secret: don’t forget to turn the beast over. Under here, where the claws were attached is some very sweet meat, that can go over looked.
Now, the pros would give you a funny look for using one of these. Bronwen feels that hammers tend to cause the shell to smash, leaving you picking shards of shell out of the meat. I’ll leave that up to you, because this shellfish hammer is over-the-top gorgeous. Get it from Bergo Designs.
Of course you’ll also need shell crackers, picks, and butter warmers. Check out The Cooks Place, as they carry a good selection and ship across Canada. They also carry a great selection of knives if you want to go the pro route!
And the right pot. Check this out. Now this is a steamer pot, not a boiling pot, so you will have to let your conscience be your guide. But I do love the spigot for easy draining. Get it and other lobster accoutrement from Crate and Barrel.
Now if this is all too much, and you just want to indulge, and I mean truly over-the-top indulge and you’re either a fantastic cook, or are in the Toronto area, read on…..
Recipe courtesy Chef Patrick Lin. Photo credit: Metropolitan Hotels.
Senses Lobster Spaghettini
Yield: 4 Portions
Vegetable oil – 30 ml
Onions – 100g – Rough Chop
Celery – 100g – Rough Chop
Leeks – 100g – Rough Chop
Garlic – 1 clove – Smashed
Lemon -1 piece – Cut in half
Bay Leaf – 1 piece
White Wine – 60 ml
Water – 4 L
Lobster 1 ï¿½ lbs – 2 pieces
In a large stockpot over medium heat sweat: celery, onions, leeks, 1 clove of garlic.
De-glaze pot with white wine and juice from lemon.
Add in water, bay leaf and remainder of lemon and season heavily with salt. The water should taste acidic and salty. Bring liquid to a rolling boil.
Place lobsters into stock pot and cook for 2 minutes, pull out lobster and refresh in ice bath, pull off claws and place back into stock pot for another 4 minutes, pull out claws and refresh in ice bath.
Carefully remove meat from claws and tail, insuring to keep all the leftover shells and body. Reserve lobster meat for final dish.