This is part of a series on how to buy, cook, eat and make stock from lobster. Yesterday’s piece focused on how to purchase lobster and how to tell the gender; today we talk about the simple task of cooking it. This article assumes knowledge from the previous (the most important part being that we cook 1.25-1.5 pound lobsters with an absolute ceiling of 1.75 pounds) – the timing is based on the assumption that the previous page has been followed.
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If there is one thing that you need to know about how to cook a lobster it’s that it’s simple. If there’s a second thing to know, it’s that each region, town and family has their own way that, according to them, is the ONLY way to cook a lobster. My family is no different.
Here’s our rules in a nutshell:You must remove the rubber bands before cooking them.You must steam them.The water should be heavily salted (the risk of under-salting is more threatening than under or over-cooking).A lobster takes 2-beers to cook (meaning that in the time our family drink 2 beer, the lobster is done).
Traditions from other families dispute some of the above; many boil them, some leave the rubber bands on, others don’t salt the water and we cook ours longer than many. According to my Grandfather, they are all perilously wrong.
We steam lobster in heavily salted water (including ocean water if we’re in Nova Scotia). It’s important that you add enough water that it can boil for 30 minutes (or less) without running out. We don’t measure but use a few inches (under 3) in a large pot. The lobsters at the bottom will become more salty if you’re not careful so we often use a few pots which leave enough room to rotate the ones on the bottom to the top about half way through cooking.
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As for salt, we add two considerable handfuls (I am 6 feet tall with average-large hands) like these:
Now, before we share the step-by-step process, let’s talk about handling lobster:They are not slimy and you can, and should hold them firm. They can, at times, wiggle aggressive as they try to escape your grasp. As long as you are holding them reasonably securely, they won’t leave your hand. I hold them over the sink in the event that happens and use great care (especially once the elastic bands are off).Pick up a lobster by the back of the body. You’ll see that they can’t reach behind them. Practice for a few minutes before taking the band off so you can see their range of movement.Only remove the elastic bands at the last moment and handle with extreme care and minimal distraction. Lobster can draw a crowd and you’re dealing with boiling water and an animal that could cause significant pain including broken fingers. If you don’t believe this, allow a lobster to grab the tip of a butter knife and you’ll see the trouble you have removing it (wiggle side to side to do so). Lobsters have 2 claws: one is used to crush and the other is used to cut. I don’t know what I’d do if I ever got pinched (and don’t have tested advice for this) but I’d either cut the claw off or try to toss it away. Instinct would take over and while your life would likely not be endangered, you really don’t want to test this one out.The only real threat to you is those two big claws, don’t be worried about the other ‘arms.’
How to cook a lobster (I do 4-5 per pot so I can rotate them)Pour 1.5-3 inches of water into a large pot.Add two handfuls of salt.Cover and bring to a boil.Remove the elastic bands from the lobster (use care; I use scissors to make this easy) and drop the lobster into the boiling pot as soon as possible.Cover pot.After 15 minutes, rotate the lobster from the bottom to the top and vice versa. They will already have turned fairly red.After another 10 minutes check to see if they’re done. Do this by gently lifting a lobster by its antennae (1). Gently jerk upwards and stop – the lobster should travel 1-2 inches ‘up’ before falling back towards the pot. If the antennae releases, the lobster is done.
Here’s a video of us testing that this lobster was cooked that shows step 7 in detail: