Yesterday, I cooked lobster for the first time. My friend Chris wanted to spend an afternoon cooking and he’s not one to skimp and save when it comes to ingredients, so we faced a truly decadent meal of lobster* followed by roast grouse followed by four different types of cheese.
Over a glass of wine, we pondered how to dispatch them. I was the only one in our party of three to consider the freezer method. The RSPCA recommends 2 hours at -20C. I was even willing to get all cheffy and put a knife through the head if that was deemed the right thing to do but advice is very conflicting. Lobsters do not have a brain, just a simple nervous system. It is not possible to ‘kill’ them in the normal sense of the word but there is a debate over whether or not they feel they’re being cooked; some argue that the thrashing they do in the water is a reaction to toxins and not a pain response. I don’t know. Anyway my mates were having none of it – they went straight in the pot.
We wondered how long they needed. Again, advice varies. We ended up cooking them for 10 minutes then panicking and leaving them in for another 2. This was too long; they didn’t suffer hugely but I’d say around 8 minutes would be ideal. Once tonged from the pot it was a frenzy of twisting, cracking, picking and extracting while trying to avoid burns from bursts of boiling juices. A lack of proper tools wasn’t a problem – we just whacked the claws with a knife. Every last morsel of meat was extracted, the shells saved for bisque. It’s a crime to throw them away when there’s so much more flavour to be had for your money.
To serve, a pot of golden mayonnaise (made with two super-rich Burford Brown yolks), a ramekin of clarified butter and some good bread. It’s all about the simplicity with crustaceans. I dunked quivering chunks of lobster meat into the mayonnaise and soaked up silly amounts of clarified butter with the bread. It seemed almost too good to be true.
The tail is of course the largest piece but the claws make the sweetest eating and the legs are the most fun – like lobster straws that make you work for their reward. We saved them until last and slurped and sucked out every last piece of flesh and juice. Perfect.
How to cook a lobster
Bring a large pan of water to the boil and add plenty of salt. When you’ve got a rolling boil, drop your lobster in. When it comes back to the boil, start timing. We had 1.2-1.3 kg lobsters and cooked them for 12 minutes but this was slightly too long. 8-10 minutes would be ideal.
Remove and let them cool slightly. This website has detailed instructions on how to remove the meat from a lobster. We just hacked away at ours, twisting the claws and legs off then dealing with the rest as best we could.
Some lobsters contain a green liver or ‘tomalley’ which is edible and considered a delicacy by many.
2 egg yolks
Groundnut or vegetable oil (olive oil is to strong I find and certainly never use extra virgin)
A scant teaspoon mustard of your choice
Lemon juice (start with a tablespoon and see how you go)
Salt and pepper
Put the egg yolks in a clean bowl and whisk them together. Whisk in the mustard. Begin adding oil a few drops at a time, whisking as you do so and making sure each bit of oil is fully incorporated before adding the next. As you whisk in more oil and the mayo starts to thicken, you can start adding it in very slightly larger quantities until you are steadily adding it in a thin stream. The key with mayo is to be cautious with the oil until you get a feel for making it. If you add too much at once, it will split. If this happens, don’t despair. Take a fresh egg yolk in a clean bowl and begin adding the split mixture into it, very slowly, just as if it were the oil. This should bring it back. Add the lemon juice to taste and season with salt and pepper.
*The lobsters Chris bought through Marky Market who had the frankly rather genius idea of setting up a business where he acts as a middle man between you and a market you don’t have the time or energy to go to, like Billingsgate. He buys what you want then meets up with you to exchange the goods.