Cooking Lobster

Whether you're cooking lobster by boiling or steaming or want to grill lobster tails, serving up this shellfish transforms any event into a special occasion. Although the lobster tails you see packaged in stores generally come from spiny lobsters found in Pacific and Caribbean waters, the traditional boiled lobster is almost always Maine lobster, which is harvested from Atlantic waters extending from Maine down to the Carolinas. Cooking lobster is easier than you might think-the only real challenge may be handling them beforehand.

Selecting Live Lobsters
To ensure you're getting the best lobster, visit your local fish market unless you know the seafood department at your supermarket well. Be sure to ask the fishmonger when the lobsters were caught. You want to choose live lobsters that are fresh caught. Some markets may keep lobsters in their tanks for a week or more and outside their natural habitat the lobsters will lose weight, most notably in the claws where the meat will begin to shrink.

Spend some time watching the lobsters before identifying the ones you want. Look for lobsters that are active and lively and hold or wave their claws upright, especially when they're pulled straight from the tank. You can also test the lobster's tail for signs of strength by pushing its tail straight. If it curls back under the lobster afterward, it's a keeper. If not, move on to the next possibility.

When it comes to size, a bigger lobster isn't necessarily better. The larger the lobster, the older it is. The older it is, the less tender the meat may be. You'll do best with lobsters that weigh less than two and a half pounds. The shells make up most of the weight, but a good rule of thumb is for every pound and a quarter of weight, you'll wind up with two to three ounces of meat which, because of its richness, is more than enough for one person to eat in a sitting.

You may have heard the terms hard shell and soft shell applied to lobster, just as they're applied to crab. Soft shell lobsters are lobsters who have recently molted and grown new shells. Some people prefer them to hard shell lobsters, saying the meat is sweeter. Others disagree and favor hard shell lobsters for their richness. It comes down to a matter of taste, although the one advantage soft shell lobsters have is they're easier to crack, thus the meat requires less effort to remove.

Storing Lobster Before Cooking
When you get your lobsters home, the best way to store them before you're ready to cook is to place them in an open container. Keep the lobsters moist by wrapping them in paper towels, newspapers or dishtowels that have been soaked in seawater and place the container in your refrigerator. Never store live lobsters in a sealed container-they'll suffocate and die. When properly stored, live lobsters will live up to 48 hours after purchase, but it's best to plan to cook them as soon as possible.

Ways to Cook Lobster
The traditional ways to cook live lobster are boiling and steaming. The process for each method is easy, really no more difficult than boiling water. The trick is avoiding both over- and undercooking.

Boiling Lobster. To boil lobster, you'll want to have a pot big enough to hold three quarts of water per 1 ½ to 2 pounds of lobster. Add a ¼ cup of salt for each gallon of water (four quarts is equivalent to one gallon). Bring the water to a rolling boil and place the lobsters into the pot one at a time.

Don't cover the pot, but do start timing immediately. Halfway through cooking, stir the lobsters. Cooking time is approximately seven to eight minutes per pound. A good rule of thumb is to boil the lobsters for five minutes, then add three minutes of cooking time for every pound after the first pound. Remove the lobsters from the water, one at a time, allowing any excess water to drain.

Steaming Lobster. When you steam lobster, you want to be sure you don't overcrowd the pot. The general gauge for pot size is four to five gallons per six to eight pounds of lobster. Fill the pot with two inches of salted water or seawater and then place a steaming rack in the pot.

Bring the water to a rolling boil and, just like boiling lobsters, place the lobsters in to the pot one at a time. Cover the pot and begin timing immediately. Halfway through cooking, rearrange the lobsters.

Steam the lobsters for ten minutes per pound, adding two minutes of cooking time for every additional ¼ pound.

Cracking Lobsters
If it's your first time cracking a lobster, it may take you a few minutes (or a few lobsters) to get the hang of it. Be sure to wear a bib. As you're working your way through the lobster, more likely than not, water will squirt from its body.

Start by twisting off the claws and cracking the claw and the knuckle. You can purchase a special lobster cracker if you wish, but a quality nut cracker will do just as well. Once you've cracked open the claws, extract the meat.

Next, you want to remove the tail from the body and separate the flippers from the tail. Remove the meat from each flipper.

Using a fork, you can push the lobster tail meat out. Be sure to remove the black vein running along the length of the tail and set aside to throw away. This is part of the lobster's digestive tract and should not be eaten.

Then work to separate the lobster's shell from its belly area by pulling them apart. You'll see a green substance when you do that's called the tomalley. This should also be discarded and not eaten. It's part of the lobster's central nervous system.

Finally, crack the lobster's body from the midpoint. Remove the meat from the leg joints and, if you want, from the legs themselves. These parts are small however, so you'll have to bite the legs and use the pressure from your teeth to push the meat out.

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