Archive for November, 2007

Steamed Lobster with Two Dipping Sauces

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007


My husband and I recently had the pleasure of spending our Thanksgiving in Maine with my family and their neighbors. We had quite a few amazing food moments, few of which I can take credit for, including homemade pork sausage stuffing, homemade mozzarella cheese, oysters on the half-shell with homemade mignonette sauce, my mother’s inspired day-after-Thanksgiving Turkey Tetrazini Casserole, and traditional Ecuadorean Day of the Dead Bread Babies. We did manage to leave the state with a few pinchy crustacean souvenirs and one of my favorite breads in the world, a fougasse from the Beach Pea Bakery in Kittery, ME, which was a perfect meal after some nasty Connecticut traffic.

Cooking lobsters is one of those things that seems intimidating, but it’s actually barely more complicated than cooking pasta. The absolute most important step is the purchase of the lobsters.

The only truly delicious lobster is alive and has been caught within a day, preferably on the North American Atlantic coast. Supermarket lobsters have been stewing in their own waste digesting themselves for who knows how long (like, months), and it shows in the flavor and texture of the meat. Frozen lobster is so tough and stringy it’s not worth the price. Lobsters are sold by weight and sometimes by shell-hardness. The hardness of the shell depends on where the lobster is in its molt-cycle. Since lobsters grow about 20% during each molt, a soft-shell lobster which has just molted will fill up substantially less of the shell than a hard-shell lobster. Soft shell lobsters are generally about $2/lb less than hard shell lobsters for this reason. I seem to injure myself quite a bit less eating soft-shell lobsters — sometimes you’ll barely need a cracker — but some people feel gyped by finding space inside the shell. Either variety will taste amazing, so buy what you like.

Once you’ve purchased the lobsters, keep them in a wet, cool place until you cook them. Putting the lobsters in a paper bag inside a plastic bag covered with wet newspaper and ice is ideal. You should cook them the same day you buy them. I’m a fan of dumping them out in the sink to watch them flop around for a while, and/or “racing” them in the bathtub, or waving them around at squeamish guests, but maybe I’m not the nicest cook. In any case, you should remove the rubber bands from the claws. Use kitchen shears and watch out if you like your fingers!

To cook the lobsters, you will need a pot large enough to hold all the lobsters. A few small pots will work too. You’ll need about 2 inches of water in the bottom of the pot, heavily salted. The water should be as salty as sea water. Bring the water to a rolling boil, and in they go! To pick the lobsters up, make sure they’re right side up, and grab just behind the head. Again, watch out for claws. If you are a wuss, you can use tongs to pick them up. Place into the pot claws first, one atop the other, and cover tightly. Bring the water back to a boil, and boil about 12-20 minutes depending on the weight of the lobster. When the lobster is cooked, an antenna will pull off easily. When the lobsters are done, use tongs to grab them out of the pot and put them in a colander in the sink. Let them drain for a few minutes. If you like you can “start” the lobsters by snipping through the end of the claws and along the underside of the tail with kitchen shears.

Now is the fun part! I like to serve lobster with two dipping options — classic lemon butter, and a very easy Saffron Chipotle Aiolli.

Lemon Butter

3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
juice of 1/2 lemon
pinch of salt
optional: chopped tarragon or chives

Combine ingredients in a small warmed bowl.

Saffron Chipotle Aiolli

pinch of saffron threads
4 tbsp Hellman’s mayonnaise
1 small clove of garlic, pressed
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 tsp chipotle powder

Toast saffron threads in a small sauté pan until fragrant. Combine remaining ingredients. Crush toasted saffron threads into mayonnaise and stir to combine. Taste and correct seasoning. Let sit for at least 1/2 hour (this allows the saffron to combine with the mayonnaise, turning it an awesome yellow color.)

I like to eat lobsters beginning with the small legs on either side, followed by the claws and then the tail, since the tail will stay warm the longest.