When it comes to a fancy dinner, a couple of meal options will always come to mind — a nice, dry-aged steak perhaps, or a fine rack of lamb — but what if your palate is leaning away from turf and towards the surf? Well, if your mind didn’t immediately go to sweet, succulent lobster, then we’d love to know where it went.
For everyone else, a nice lobster dinner sits at the apex of gourmet meals (especially when paired with a nice white wine). There’s just something about the bright red body sitting on a plate that exudes class (especially if you’re wearing this dinner jacket). The thing is, though, that you don’t have to go out to a fancy restaurant and shell out fifty bucks for that kind of meal. With a little know-how, anyone can make such an incomparable dish at home. To get the insider scoop on cracking the secrets to cooking lobster at home, we reached out to David Ezelle, executive chef at RingSide Fish House in Portland, Oregon.
As with other seafood, freshness is key for lobster. “Live is the way to go,” says Ezelle. “If you try to heat up lobster that has already been cooked, you’ll get a rubbery consistency. The best lobster is the one that is alive, then quickly dispatched and consumed.” You should be able to find live lobster at a nearby premium grocery store. You could also have a live lobster delivered to your door by The Lobster Guy.
Ideally, you would take a lobster from the grocery store (or the sea), go home, and cook it right away. Depending on your schedule, however, this may not be realistic. “If you were to cover the lobster with wet newspaper and put it in the fridge, it would probably stay alive until the following day,” says Chef David. “They will hold on for about 24 hours out of the water as long as there’s plenty of moisture in that wet newspaper.”
Dispatching the Lobster Humanely
There’s some dispute over whether lobsters feel pain; two studies over the past 10 years have arrived at different conclusions. Either way, you should dispatch the lobster quickly before cooking it. The best way to go about this is to dull the lobster’s senses by putting it in the freezer for at least 20 minutes, then splitting its skull in half with a large kitchen knife.
And now to the cooking part. With the help of Ezelle, we’ve put together three methods of preparing lobster, each with its own advantages. “The most important thing to remember is the tails and the claws have to be treated differently,” says Ezelle. “And when I say treated differently, I mean in terms of cooking time.” First up is boiling the lobster, which you’ve likely seen in movies or cartoons. This quick guide assumes that your lobster is about 2.5-3 pounds.
Method No. 1: Boiling
- Fill a large pot 3/4 full with salted water.
- Bring the water to a boil and toss the whole lobster into the water.
- Once the water resumes its simmer, turn the heat down and let the lobster poach.
- After 7 minutes, the tail will have curled in on itself. Grab the lobster with a pair of tongs, and hang the tail over the edge of the pot so the claws dangle into the water.
- Cook the claws for another 7 minutes, and you’re done.
Method No. 2: Grilling
If you’re the kind of fella who takes every opportunity to use his grill, you’ll be glad to know that lobster lends itself well to grilling. Both gas grills and charcoal grills can get the job done. Mesquite is ideal if you go the charcoal grill route, though charcoal and soaked wood chips will also work. “The wood adds a nice flavor to it,” says Ezelle. “If you are using charcoal, maybe buy some wood chips and soak ‘em, and then once the coals are ready, add the wood chips over the charcoal to get a great flavor profile.”
- Dispatch the lobster in the manner described above.
- Twist off the tail and claws.
- Split the entire lobster in half so the tail meat is exposed.
- Season the tail with salt, pepper, and butter.
- Crack the claws with a mallet or cracker and pull out the raw meat.
- Put the lobster tails and claws on the grill.
- Grill on high heat for 7 minutes.*
- Flip the tail over and cook from the underside of the shell.
- The tail is done once you see bubbles of moisture between the tail meat and shell.
*Unshelled claw meat can be grilled for about the same amount of time as tail meat, as it doesn’t have the thick shell to slow down the cooking process (pictured above).
Method No. 3: Roasting
You can also simply roast lobster in your oven, if that’s what you’re more comfortable with. “I prefer roasting or grilling to boiling,” says Ezelle. “Any time you add water to any protein, you’re basically extracting flavor. If you want all of that flavor to stay in there, then the drier preparations are preferable.”
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Cut the lobster down the middle so the meat is exposed.
- Crack the claws and remove the claw meat.
- Brush melted butter onto the meat.
- Place the tail and claw meat on a baking pan and roast for about 10 minutes.
- Baste the meat with melted butter once during the cooking process.
Eating the Lobster
Now it’s time to enjoy the delicious meats of your labor. If you haven’t already, now’s the time to take a mallet (make sure you’re got all the tools you need before starting, of course) and crack the claws until the delicious claw and knuckle meat comes out. “Once the claws are done, you can either chill them and then eat them cold, or you can get right into it and eat them hot,” says Ezelle.
As for the tail meat, it should be cooked to the point where it pops right out. Your next topic of concern should be what type of sauce to enjoy with your lobster. Some folks like the unadulterated taste of lobster meat, while others enjoy it with melted butter. Ezelle also suggests trying it with a Meyer lemon vinaigrette to balance the richness of the meat, or even cocktail sauce if that’s the sort of thing you’re into. (Then, if we’re talking about cocktails, you might as well mix up a nice drink to go with your meal, while you’re at it.)
Knowing how to cook lobster can greatly increase the frequency of your fancy dinners. For professionally-prepared lobster, we urge you to check out RingSide Fish House if you’re ever in Portland. They have a number of tasty lobster dishes and sides — including Maine Lobster Soup, Grilled Lobster Tail, and Maine Lobster Mashed Potatoes — and the prices are excellent for a world-class seafood restaurant.
Article first published on April 9, 2015.