Lobster is one of the kitchen's quintessential luxury items, an extravagant ingredient that can turn any meal into a special occasion. Extracting the flesh from a lobster's tough shell requires a bit of work, but its delicately sweet flavor makes the effort worthwhile. The classic French repertoire bristles with complex preparations for lobster, but in the United States it's more common to simply serve the tasty crustacean boiled or grilled.
A Lobster Primer
Lobsters and their freshwater cousins, the crawfish, are found in waters all around the world. Most are trapped solely for their meaty tails, but the American lobster harvested in New England also has large claws filled with moist and delicate flesh. The limbs supporting those claws contain a large quantity of easily-extracted "knuckle" meat, and their tails are as meaty and succulent as those of other lobsters. The small swimming legs and their joints also contain edible flesh, but only in very small amounts. The crustacean's abdomen contains the inedible stomach, gills and rudimentary brain, as well as the pasty green tomalley. Female lobsters also contain a quantity of bright red eggs, known as coral. Coral and tomalley are edible on their own, or as ingredients in other dishes.
Boiling is arguably the simplest of all cooking methods. Your pot must contain enough water to remain at a boil when the lobster is immersed. A good rule of thumb is that your pot should offer a gallon of capacity for every lobster you plan to cook. Bring well-salted water to a full rolling boil and add the lobsters one at a time. They should be as close to the same size as you can manage, for the best results. Twelve to 15 minutes of boiling will fully cook market-sized lobsters of 1 1/2 to 2 pounds. Remove them from the boiling water and let them rest for five minutes before serving.
Grilling or broiling a lobster requires a bit more preparation. The lobster should be laid on its back and split down the middle, then butterflied. The stomach, brain and gills must be extracted, and the tomalley and coral removed and reserved for other uses. Finally, crack the lobster's claws. Some cooks stuff the lobster's body cavity, though this is more practical with broiling than grilling. Season the exposed surfaces and brush them lightly with oil or melted butter. Start the lobster cut-side down on your grill, to char it lightly, then turn it shell-side down and cook until done. Some cooks prefer to par-boil their lobsters before grilling, which makes them easier to cook evenly.
The basic texture of lobster meat is consistent, no matter how it's cooked. The claws and knuckles have a tender and delicate texture, while the muscular tail is chewy and firm. Boiled lobster is essentially steamed in its own juices, since the shell keeps out most of the cooking water. A small amount finds its way through joints in the shell, bringing a faint brininess from the salt. Grilled lobster is slightly chewier than boiled because of the direct heat, and if overcooked the tail can become rather tough. However, when it's done correctly the charring from the grill and the faint smoke flavor from the coals make your lobster taste even richer and sweeter.
- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
- On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals; Sarah Labensky, et al.
- Maine Lobster Council: Steamed or Boiled Lobster Preparation
- Maine Lobster Council: Tips for Grilled and Broiled Maine Lobster
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