After 4 days of rain and cold, it's finally perfect weather in New England -- the kind Californians take for granted, but we tough New Englanders only see a few weeks a year. And since so many of you might be on vacation, I thought it might be a good time to post about the ultimate New England vacation food -- lobster.
I have a confession to make -- I am a little afraid of lobsters. They look like huge bugs, and bugs are not my thing. Unfortunately, very few New England establishments cook lobsters to my desired doneness. It's almost always overcooked! So if I want it done right, I have to do it myself.
"We should have lobster rolls for dinner," I thought as I woke up yesterday. Each morning, I try to come up with something challenging to cook to keep my mind off the fact that my due date came and went a week ago and the baby is still in my tummy. I tried active walking (even in the rain), acupuncture, spicy food. Nothing worked yet. My new strategy is to buy very perishable and expensive proteins. I figured that the baby will probably want to come out just as I bring those lobsters or a very expensive steak home.
At first, it didn't seem to work. The lobsters got cooked, dismembered, and turned into fantastic lobster rolls without any signs of labor. I was starting to lose hope that I'll ever go into labor at all, but this morning I finally started feeling contractions. Since I might not have that much blogging time left, let me get to the crux of the matter.
How to cook, not overcook a lobster
The problem with shellfish cooked in the shell is that you can't just poke it, look inside, and see if it's done (like you can with fin fish). You have to rely on timing. Since I cook lobsters rarely, I used to rely on the timing I heard from the fishmongers. The formulas they gave me varied from 13 to 20 minutes per pound and since I prefer to err on the side of undercooking than overcooking, I went with 13 minutes. The claws were good, but the tails were way too tough. After reading what my seafood hero, James Peterson had to say in his Fish and Shellfish book, I realized that even 13 minutes per pound is way too long and the reason my lobsters came out tough was because of overcooking. I guess this is one time when you shouldn't listen to your fishmonger. Peterson suggested two timings.
For a lobster that's still a bit translucent in the center (the way he prefers it): 5 minutes for the first 1.25 Lbs, then 2 minutes for each additional pound. In other words, 1.75 Lb lobster would cook for 6 minutes.
For a lobster that is opaque throughout: 8 minutes for the first 1.25 Lb, then 2 minutes for each additional pound. In other words, 1.75 Lb lobster would cook for 9 minutes.
I use the second timing and the lobsters always come out perfectly tender and succulent.
How much water to use
You need a huge pot and a ton of water. Peterson suggests at least a gallon of water for the first lobster and a quart for each additional one. This works if your lobsters are about 1.5 lb each and if your stove is powerful enough to return the water to a simmer quickly after the lobsters go in the pot. If your lobsters are larger or your stove is wimpy, I suggest increasing the amount of water. If you go with 2 gallons for the first lobster and 1 more gallon for each additional one, you'll be safe on any stove no matter how large the lobsters are. If you use too little water, it will cool off too much when the lobsters go in and the timing formula might not work.
You probably never thought you'd hear me say this, but hold the salt. Lobsters are naturally salty and if you add any salt to the cooking water, it ends up being too much.
Poach, don't boil
Another thing to remember is that a lobster should be poached, not boiled. If your heat is too high, the lobsters will get tough. Bring the water to a rolling boil before the lobsters go in. As soon as the lobsters go in, cover the pot and return the water to a simmer as quickly as possible (in other words, crank up the heat). Check it every minute, and as soon as you see the first bubbles, turn the heat off and leave the pot covered. Don't worry, the lobster are still cooking. Just because you turned the heat off, doesn't mean the water is not hot. Note that the above timing is the total time the lobster spends in the water (the time it takes to return the water back to a simmer plus the time the water is off the heat).
Rest and Serve
Remove the lobsters from the cooking liquid and let rest 10 minutes before taking apart. I probably don't need to tell you that, but lobster dunked in melted butter is heavenly.
Tips on taking your lobsters apart and making lobster rolls.