|Get Ready for the Lobster Boil|
I have a pet dog named Teesha and a cat named Pumpkin; I treat them like they are my children and love them more than most of my relatives. Yet for over 20 years, I have been cooking and eating almost every fish and land animal that's edible.
I have killed live fish, frogs, snakes, rabbits and chickens and turned them into great dishes; I have helped my uncle Joe slaughter pigs for his annual salume fest. I have seen it all, and eaten it all. Chefs love plants and animals because they provide us with our raw materials: Like painters, these ingredients are the colors we work with.
I have dozens of pet geese, ducks and chickens -- all have names -- and I would never do more to them than eat their eggs. Somehow I deal with the dichotomy of the situation and move on. But when it comes to lobsters, there is no conflict whatsoever. Although a few times each summer, I inevitably get the question: Do lobsters scream when you boil them? The other night was no exception. With two dozen writhing lobsters on my kitchen counter and six pots of boiling water, I had to explain once again to a squeamish guest that no, lobsters don't scream when you cook them. The sound comes from air escaping from their carapace (shells) as they cook. Luckily, I was grilling mushrooms at the time, and they happened to be "screaming" as well, so my explanation had instant credibility. There is almost no pleasure -- culinarily speaking, of course -- greater than the taste of a sweet and salty steamed lobster claw dipped in melted butter. Really, there isn't. Shrimp, crab, mussels and clams are all tasty, but they don't hold a candle to a lobster. Ironically, at one point in our country's history lobster were considered filthy, bottom-dwelling sea creatures not fit for human consumption. Things have certainly changed. Now lobster is considered the epitome of gourmet cuisine. In the summer, once every week or so, my friends and I indulge ourselves with as much lobster and melted butter as we can eat. It's even easy to prepare: You boil water; cook the lobster for several minutes; crack and serve. But of course, I have some further tips.
Crustacean Choosing and CookingMy favorite size is the 1- to 1½-pound lobsters. When lobsters weigh a pound or under, they are referred to as chickens or chix. As a rule, the smaller they are, the better they taste. Large lobsters are big because they have been around longer, which means they have had more time to fight off their predators, and their meat can be very tough. And they are often expensive simply because they are harder to find, not because they taste any better than the small guys. Culls are small lobsters which have lost a claw -- these are the best deal in the lobster world. And hard-shell lobsters are always better than soft-shell. Lobsters grow by molting their shells. A soft-shell lobster was caught in the middle of that process, and the resulting flesh is often mealy and watery -- not good eating. All you need to know about buying lobsters is that they should always be alive: If they feel limp in your hands, put them back. Try to find a supplier with a lobster tanks and pick the liveliest you can find. Fresh seafood markets and fishing wharfs are good places to buy lobsters, or you even order online, like at
Let's EatServe your cooked lobsters whole, and give everyone crackers and those tiny little forks for coaxing the little bits of meat from the lobster knuckles (arguably the best part). And always have your lobsters with melted butter. Buy the highest-quality salted butter you can find, and to prepare "drawn" butter, leave about a stick per lobster out at room temperature for a few hours. This will allow the butter to soften, so you won't have to boil it excessively -- this would end up clarifying it (which separates out the solids). And we don't want clarified butter, because it doesn't taste as good. Butter consists of butterfat and milk solids, which when combined, have a superb flavor. If any of those are missing, it just doesn't taste the same. What you want is a suspension of fat and milk solids, so that when you dip, you can season the lobster with all those fantastic flavors. I like to add a layer of flavor to my drawn butter by adding some browned milk solids. All you have to do for this is boil down a little heavy cream till it browns and caramelizes, and then pour that into the freshly melted butter -- a pint of cream for every pound of butter is just about right. This is one little extra that will take your lobster boil over the top. The best part of a lobster boil is the eating because it's delicious, of course, but also because you get a chance to be involved with your food. If you are eating with your summer love, feed the lobster to him or to her and see what happens -- and just hope he or she isn't one of the squeamish ones!
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