A Lobster Meets You at the Door  

Lobster is synonymous with Maine. Seventy percent of all the lobsters harvested in New England are caught there. Residents have been lobstering since the early 1600's. Commercial ventures began in the mid-1800's. Today, these succulent crustaceans still welcome visitors up and down the state's beautiful coast.

Lobsters are menu staples in the smallest family style restaurants and in the most elegant establishments. Road-side stands sell lobster rolls, or lobster salad sandwiches. Lobster bakes, seafood and sweet corn cooked over hot coals, are as routine in Portland as barbecued ribs are in Kansas City. And, if you'd like, many fish mongers will ship them to your home. 

Lobster has a very distinctive flavor that is both mild and slightly sweet. It's great for the health conscious because it's low in fats, calories and cholesterol. It compares very nicely to skinless chicken and turkey on these counts. Yes you can use lots of butter or make cream-based sauces, but a lemon wedge lightly drizzled over the cooked meat is the best way to enjoy lobster's unique flavor.

Don't be intimidated at the thought of cooking lobster at home. It's really very easy. 

There's one simple rule to making lobster. Take it home alive and cook it immediately. Lobster tanks are common sights in better markets all over the U.S. and Canada. When I see lobsters that are already cooked in a display case, I always wonder if they died in the tank. If you cook it, you know that it's fresh. 

Fish mongers and chefs give a slight nod to buying females. They're a little sweeter. Telling them apart is simple. Turn the lobster on it's back and look at the first pair of swimmerets, or appendages, just where the body and tail meet. They are hard and bone-like in a male and soft and feather-like in a female.

Generally, lobsters in your market will be a greenish-brown with an orange underside. They can be other colors: blue, red, white and yellow-spotted, but these lobsters are very rare and normally do not make their way out of New England. Whatever their color when living, they all turn red when cooked. If you have to refrigerate a lobster, do so inside a perforated brown paper bag.

Plan on serving one lobster per person based on an average size between 1 1/4 lbs. to 2 1/2 lbs. each. If you buy them any larger, the portion is just too large. 

Steaming and boiling are the most common ways to cook lobsters. Both can be done in any home kitchen.

To steam lobsters, put about two inches of salted water in the bottom of a large pot. Bring the water to a rapid boil and add the lobsters one at a time. Cover the pot and return the water to boiling and begin timing. 

Timing for Steamed Lobsters

pounds / minutes
1 1/4 / 12
1 1/2 / 15
2 / 18
2 1/2 / 20

When the antennae, or legs, pull out easily, the lobsters are done.

To boil lobsters, fill a large pot 3/4 full of water and two tablespoons of salt for each quart of water. Allow 2 1/2 quarts of water for each lobster. Bring the water to a boil. Put in the live lobsters, tail first and back side up, one at a time. Return the water to a boil. Cover the pot, reduce to a simmer and begin timing,

Timing for Boiled Lobsters

pounds / minutes
1 1/4 / 15
1 1/2 / 18
2 / 20
2 1/2 / 23

Use the antennae-test described above for boiled lobsters as well.

Now it's time to eat your lobster. This is a very hands-on activity - no matter where you are - in a three star Parisian restaurant or in a Maine lobster shack. Many establishments hand out paper bibs, but I find them unnecessary. Rolling up your shirt sleeves a tad eliminates most problems.

Here's how the folks in Maine eat lobsters:

1. Twist off the claws.
2. Crack each claw with a nut cracker, pliers, knife or hammer. Remove the meat.
3. Separate the tail from the body by bending the back until it cracks.
4. Bend the flippers back and break them off the tail.
5. Where the flippers are broken off, insert a fork and push out the meat. Discard the black vein which runs the entire length of the tail meat.
6. Unhinge the back from the body.
7. Open the body by cracking the remaining part sideways. The meat lies in four pockets, or joints, where the small walking legs are attached. The small walking legs also contain excellent meat which can be removed by sucking on the ends of the legs.

French fries and coleslaw are perfect accompaniments. Lemons are a great garnish, and they also help remove the slight fish odor from your fingers. Make sure that you put extra plates on the table to collect the shells.

Give cooking lobsters a try at home. And soon, friends and family will be knocking at your door to eat, meet and greet the lobster. 

Bon App
étit!