Cooking a live lobster can seem intimidating the first time. It's a living creature (with gigantic claws to boot!) and if you've not prepped one before, it can be a daunting thing. Yet buying a live one is one of the only ways of ensuring you get the best (fresh) lobster and if you're looking to eat a whole one, it's worth it. Here's my guide for how to do it, whilst keeping all your fingers intact and respecting the animal.
1. Buy your lobster.
Find a reputable fishmongers and check in advance that they sell them (not all do). Live lobster should generally be stored in a water tank – these keep them alive the longest, guarenteeing they'll be fresh and in good shape for you. Lobsters, like all humans, come in all sizes so have a think about how much you need and advise your fishmonger – he'll help you pick the right one.
Look for ones that are lively – they'll be waving their claws around and looking generally annoyed at being disturbed. Females lay their eggs between August-October and shouldn't be caught during this period – avoid any at this time that have eggs along their belly.
They're not cheap – 1 large 0.7kg lobster probably costs over £25 -but for a treat, are unbeatable. They'll give them to you with the claws bound and should wrap them up for you tighly in dampened newspaper, to stop them getting loose on the way home. Apparently when their eyes are covered (by the paper) they go into a comotose state, so the fisherman told me – as a white lie perhaps to stop me feeling bad!
2. Storing them
You can keep a live lobster alive for around 36-48 hours, although I'd recommend where possible using them on the same day – unless you've got a tank at home, it's more humane. Store them on the bottom shelf of a fridge (to stop it contaminating other food), wrapped up in their damp paper and they'll be fine.
3. Killing them
There's a few schools of thought on this, including dropping it straight into boiling water or literally ripping the tail off from the head (?!?!?). The most humane way however is to first freeze the lobster for 2 hours – this puts them to sleep and stops them moving around. After two hours, take it out and push the tip of a large, heavy, sharp kitchen knife through the cross on the back of it's head. This kills it instantly.
4. Cooking it
There's a million ways of cooking lobster but I like it best plain and whole, with garlic butter for dipping.
Set a large (I mean large -it should allow your lobsters to be completely submerged) pot of boiling water with a few tablespoons of salt in boiling. When boiling, drop your lobster in and boil for 12 minutes for a 0.7kg lobster, 8 minutes for a 0.5kg one. When cooked the lobster will be bright red. Drain the water and leave to sit for 5 minutes to cool.
Melt some salted butter and stir in chopped garlic and parsley, with a bit of fresh tarragon too if you like.
5. Cracking it
This is probably the hardest part but it can be the most fun. Chop the head off the tail (or twist off) and put to one side – you won't need it. You may see some green liver which you can either eat (some people like it) or leave with the head to use in a stock, or to discard. If it's a female you may also see some red roe, which you can also do this with. Twist the claws and legs off from the body. Crack the claws with a lobster cracker or hammer and pull the meat out. To get the leg meat out, snip the ends off and roll a rolling pin down the length from the uncut side to the cut – it should squeeze the leg meat out whole, like a little sausage! If not, flatten with the back of a knife and it should squeeze out.
To get at the tail, take the flippers at the end of the tail and bend them backwards and off. Take the meat from the flippers, and then through the opening where the flippers were, push the tail meat out whole from the shell. It should pop out like a big prawn, or if it doesn't, you can just chop the whole tail in half lengthways. Remove the digestive tract from the tail (it's in the middle at the top) and devour!
Keep the shells and use it to make a delicious lobster stock. I'll try and blog this next.
I like mine best simple and plain, dipped in the hot garlic butter and eaten with my hands! Serve with frites, chipped potatoes and some simple vegetables or salad. Enjoy!