Get Ready for the Lobster Boil
There is conflict in my heart: Every time I see, hold and pet a live animal I fall hard and fast. I could never imagine harming it in any way.

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 Cooking

My 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 LobsterGram , for fresh, high-quality lobsters with all the fixings, shipped overnight.

The cooking process is referred to as steaming, but really it's boiling, and it's the best way to cook them.

The cooking water should be salted (like lobsters' natural habitat) and should be boiling hard when the lobsters are put in. If you don't have a pot big enough to cook all your lobsters together, use several separate pots at once.

If you really want to get serious about big pots of boiling water, there are two ways to do so: You can build a fire pit in your backyard and hang a giant kettle over the fire, or you can buy what's called a single-burner candy stove, which is fueled by propane.

This type of stove is portable and can be found at your local restaurant equipment supplier (or often in any Chinatown, if you happen to live near one). Use a large, inexpensive enameled pot with a 20- to 34-quart capacity -- nothing fancy needed here.

Another benefit of smaller lobsters is that they take less time to cook. Usually 8-10 minutes is plenty of time, after the water returns to a boil. Cook the lobsters, covered, in plenty of water, and keep the pot covered until they're ready to be served.

Let's Eat

Serve 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!

For more info on Rocco DiSpirito, please visit or click here to find his cookbooks.

Note: Rocco is shooting his new TV show, and he's looking for people with a dramatic situation in their lives involving food. Worried about that engagement dinner with your picky mother-in-law? Trying to win back that ex-girlfriend who's still mad at you for cheating on her? Trying to bury the hatchet with that outcast uncle at your family reunion cookout? Rocco wants to help you! Please email with your problem and we will contact you!

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Rocco DiSpirito was born and raised in Jamaica, Queens. His culinary experience and love of "the good life" through cooking and dining began at age 11 in his mother Nicolina's kitchen. By the age of 16, DiSpirito entered the Culinary Institute of America, graduating with honors in 1986. DiSpirito's career highlights include opening Union Pacific in New York City's Gramercy Park as chef and owner in 1997, being awarded three stars from the New York Times in a 1998 review, and three more in 2002 from the New York Observer. DiSpirito was also named Food & Wine's Best New Chef in 1999, and "America's Most Exciting Young Chef" by Gourmet magazine in 2000; his show "The Restaurant" first aired on NBC in 2003. DiSpirito is the author of three cookbooks: Flavor, Rocco's Italian American, and Rocco's 5 Minute Flavor.

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