Lobster on My Mind
by Prof. Steve Holzinger
"A lobster that comes ashore is soon in hot water."
Lobsters are one of my favorite foods. Recently, I was taken to task for being too opinionated in this column, and favoring plain over fancy too much. Chaque-un a son gout, everyone to their own taste, but I cannot think what you can do to improve on a plain boiled lobster with drawn butter, except to have two of them. At the Boston Seafood Show last year, my friends and I ate lobsters at Legal Seafood, and they were great! I had mine...you guessed it.
Here on Long Island, many restaurants feature a twin lobster platter, and they use culls, lobsters with only one claw. Many years ago, when my kids were little, we ate in a well known Sound Avenue restaurant out East on the Island, and I ordered twins. When they arrived, I asked the waitress what happened to the missing claws, just to be funny. She opined that they had lost them in a fight. "Then take them back, and bring me the winners," I said, just kidding you know. She took me seriously, and picked up the plate, and took it back to the kitchen. When she returned, lo and behold, each of the lobsters had two claws! My kids wanted to know how she did that! "Don't ask," I told them, and left a big tip.
I have done thousands of broiled lobsters, and I always cut them to order, but when I had large parties for hundreds of people, I would poach them 2/3 of the way, and add a well seasoned light gratin to the shell cavity. Some times the dinner called for crabmeat stuffing, so I added buttered crabmeat, or crab imperial mix to the cavity, and then the gratin.
When I mentioned culls, I realized that I would have to tell you about "lobster talk" as they have a language all their own to describe them. You can't walk the walk unless you can talk the talk, you know.
Winter lobsters are hard shelled, the best way to have them. In the summer they shed their shells and become soft shells, and the meat is less firm, more watery, not as good. The shells gradually recalcify and the flesh firms up after a while.
Lobsters with two claws are called primes, one claw are culls and no claws are called pistols. The claws are regenerated, and sometimes you will see one regular claw and one tiny one. It is a cull. I like to buy culls and pistols, they are cheaper and most of the meat is in the tail anyway.
Talking about claws, the big one with teeth that look like molars is the gripper, the smaller one, with sharp needle like teeth is called the shredder.
One pound lobsters are called Chicken Lobsters or chix, then they go up by quarters, 1-1/4, 1-1/2, 1-3/4. Then come 2 lb. lobsters, called Twos, and then they go up by quarters. Bigger than twos are Jumbos, starting at three lbs. The larger they get the higher the price.
Measured from the tip of the front shell (the carapace) to the end where the tail joins it, a lobster must be 6 inches. If not, it's a short, and a lobster must weigh 14 oz. If not, it's illegal seafood.
Weak, slow and dead. When a lobster dies, the flesh gives up its fluid very rapidly, and the lobster is inedible. When the lobster is not feeling so well, and getting ready to die, it will be weak or slow. Held in the hand, it will sag, but show signs of life, but not flip and fight like a fresh one. Do the smart and kind thing. Poach it right away, and use the meat in a variety of ways that will be discussed later. As long as it was alive, even weak or slow, when you poach it, the flesh will be OK.
Plain Boiled Lobster
Roughly speaking, ten minutes or so a pound for the smaller lobsters is enough, 15-18 minutes for 1-1/2 to twos, in court bouillon. In the winter, when there are hard shelled lobsters, add five minutes to these times. I like to use a pot of court bouillon to simmer, never boil them, as the acid makes the shell redder, and preserves the flavor. For two pounders and up, you may want to twist off the claws, and give them an extra 3-5 minutes first, Then plunge the lobster, head first into the simmering stock. This kills them instantly, but the tail may splash by reflex. When they are ready to serve, insert your knife at the tip of the underside of the carapace, and cut down. Split the tail as well. Right at the point of the carapace is the "dead man," or craw, which is full of bits of shell and other indigestibles the lobster ate. Remove and discard it. The green gland, or tomalley, is delicious, so leave it. If you see any red lobster caviar, called coral, save that for last, it is the best, and much improves lobster sauces. As a matter of fact, for plain boiled lobster, I prefer males as they are slightly meatier. The rest is easy.
A one pound lobster has only about four ounces of meat, mostly in the tail and claws, but don't waste the body meat. The best tool I found is one of those scissors that they advertise on TV that can cut a penny. They go through lobster shells very easily. If you cut off the tips of the legs, and then rest the end of the scissors on the leg and pull towards you, a nice little strand of meat will pop out. Don't forget those nice lumps under the feathery gills. Serve it with drawn butter, which is just melted butter, and fresh lemon. Don't forget lots of napkins. Don't throw away any extra shells. There is a use for them.
Not So Plain Lobster
Bear in mind that lobster meat, by itself, tastes wonderful, just dipped in butter, but..... There are times when you need to do something else with it. For example, when I was Chef at the Shelter Island Yacht Club, in the summer of 1976, we had lots of boats tie up at our dock on weekends. Lobster salads and lobster cocktails and lobster rolls were all my best selling lunch dishes. I used to buy all the culls and pistols I could, just for salad. Folks would sit poolside, in the most casual dress, and inhale lobster, clam and shrimp cocktails like tomorrow would never come.
A popular favorite was the Lobster "eGG Salad" Surprise I wrote about last year, a cold lobster stuffed with lobster, egg and avocado salad. Some people liked it best on a crisp Kaiser roll, so I sold it that way too. This was before California sushi rolls got popular. Same taste only much better. In the evening, it was a somewhat different story. Many of the women, who had spent a hard day at the pool or at tennis, would come into the dining room dressed to kill. There was no way they were going to put a lobster bib on over a dress that cost more than my summers salary! So I had to invent, as they did want lobster. I would take the tail and claw meat out of a two pound lobster, slice it, and nap it with Sauce Hollandaise or Sauce Cardinal, and remove the bite sized slices to a fresh plate, so that there was no pool of sauce. Sauce Cardinal requires a female lobster for the coral. It is easy to tell a female lobster. Just where the tail bends at the carapace, the last set of swimmerets are hard and calcified in the male, and soft and feathery in the female. Females are also wider in the tail. For Sauce Cardinal, I would pound lobster shells with a mallet, and simmer them in clarified butter. The butter would extract the red color and lobster flavor from the shells. Then I would strain it, and use it to make a Hollandaise sauce, which I would enrich with the cooked red coral lobster eggs. Even in the most elegant gown, this was a lobster dish that could be eaten with out fear of dribbles. I am pleased to tell you that there were some ladies that loved my cooking better than their gowns, and they would call for an extra boat of sauce.
Lobster also can be used to garnish other dishes. I make a light quenelle of sole, so light and smooth it melts in your mouth. When I add a brunoise of lobster to them, they become even better, and then I finish them with a glazing sauce which is compounded from Sauce Vin Blanc and Sauce Cardinal, lightened with whipped cream. The quenelles are topped with thin slices of lobster tail or claw for garnish, and the glaccage (glazing) sauce is poured over and browned under the broiler. It takes a bit of work to put it all together, but after all, isn't that what its all about? Otherwise, you could have served...yes, you guessed it, plain boiled lobster.
eGGsalad #29: Lobster on My Mind
- Stuffed Lobster Imperial
- Lobster Hollandaise or Cardinal
- Gratin of Sole and Lobster Cardinal
- Mousseline of Fish or Chicken
© 1997, Steve K. Holzinger. All rights reserved.
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.
Modified August 2007