Boiled Lobster (A How to…)
You can do lots of wonderful things with lobster but sometimes the simplest things are best and one of my favorite meals is a plain boiled east-coast lobster. As a child, I mostly ate these cold, often with little more than a roll and butter, but most people, my wife included, prefer the lobsters served piping hot with drawn butter and that is how we most commonly have them these days. We don’t often get the live creatures up here in Iqaluit very often (and they are monstrously expensive when they do get flown in) but every time we see them we have to buy….
Above, you can see the lobsters I located at our local supermarket. The store did not specify the origin but they do appear to be from the Maritime Provinces, either New Brunswick, PEI, or Nova Scotia. Most people who have a preference say that the females are better than the males and the two you see pictured above are definitely females. You can tell the difference by examining the tails which, in the males, are considerably more narrow.
These two lobsters weigh about a pound and a half each, which is a pretty popular serving size at one lobster per person. Any smaller than this and they can be a bit fiddly to eat, with only the tail and claws yielding decent chunks of meat. The smaller lobsters are generally held to be sweeter and more tender than larger ones but this is true only to a point. Personally, I like a 2 ½ ponder myself, as there is lots of good meat in the smaller legs and the body, all of which is easily as succulent and tasty as the tails in smaller sort.
By the way, when purchasing lobsters for the pot, make sure that they are still moving and clearly alive. Should lobsters die after purchase, you are usually okay if you get them in the water within an hour or so but dead lobsters just do not turn out as well as the live ones and deteriorate very quickly. If you are served lobster cooked by someone else, you can always tell if the lobster was alive when boiled by, again, examining the tail. The tail of a lobster boiled alive will remain tightly curled when it is taken from the pot while that of a dead one will flop flaccidly.
The basic idea for boiling lobsters is to use lots of water and a big pot large enough to have the lobsters fully submerged without being too crowded. The water need to be salted and seawater is the ideal choice but, if this is not possible, you can substitute fresh water with a good sea salt added at 2 good sized tablespoons per quart of water. This may seem like rather a lot but if you have ever accidentally swallowed a mouthful of seawater you will recognize that this is about right.
Lots of people like to add other flavorings to the water, almost making a broth, in fact, and some additions include white wine, lemon slices, celery and garlic. Purists, like myself, however, prefer to keep things simple. Other than some peppercorns, however, I also like to add a bit of dried seaweed for a bit of that ‘au naturel’ marine flavor. Here, I have used an 8 inch piece of Konbu and some strands of Hijiki. You can use whatever types of seaweed you prefer, but don’t try the common sushi wrap variety known as Nori as this will just turn into a nasty sludge when you boil.
To cook the lobsters, bring your water to a moderately vigorous boil and then drop the animals head first into the pot. The water will cool briefly but allow it to return to the boil and then start counting the time. There is actually a wide range of suggested cooking times suggested in various sources but, for each lobster, a good rule of thumb is as follows:
For the first pound, boil for 12 to 15 minutes and then, for each additional half-pound boil for a further 3 to 5 minutes.
If you are unsure how about how you want your lobsters to turn out, it is better to err on the high side (eg: about 20 minutes for a 1 ½ lb. lobster). I actually like lobsters that are cooked quite briefly but most people prefer them more well done. You can cook a little bit longer than the times given above but if you go too long the meat will become very rubbery and unpleasant.
As usual, we served our lobsters hot with drawn butter. I like a little lemon juice and parsley in the butter but you can also jazz it up with a bit of garlic or even hot pepper if desired.
If you plan to serve the lobsters cold, it is a good idea to plunge them into a pot of cold water to arrest the cooking. Once this is done, make sure you store the lobsters (in the fridge) on their backs rather than their bellies as this will prevent a loss of juices and keep the meat more succulent.
After you have had your feast, make sure you save the shells for making stock. Pictured above are the remains of the lobster that I ate and you can see that I pretty well demolished the beast. These bits of shell, along with those from my wife’s lobster will be going into the stock-pot later and I will show you that method in a subsequent post…