Gourmet Explorer: Landing a tasty lobster at home

CanWest News Service
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Curiously for citizens of a maritime country with three oceans, Canadians are divided about lobsters - Prairie folks don't know what to do with them, Newfoundlanders are bored with them.
Most Maritimers despised lobster when it was plentiful. Eating lobster sandwiches in school branded the children as poor fisher folk who couldn't afford anything better - like bologna or Spam. Convicts rebelled to get beef once a week as a break from daily lobster fare. Still within living memory, canners (lobsters weighing a pound or less) were plowed into fields as fertilizer.
Lobsters are less abundant these days, but they are not overfished. While cod stocks dwindled despite quota systems, the lobster quotas seem to work. Each fisherman gets so many days to harvest, and the periods are staggered through the year.
Lobster landings peak twice a year, once from April to June when the spring season opens in the Maritimes and Quebec, and then again in December after the winter fishery opens in southwestern Nova Scotia.
Canada traps 800 million pounds of lobster a year and much of it is shipped abroad for big bucks. A Canadian lobster dinner in South Korea can run up to $130 - without the wine or tip. As lobster has gained respect at home, its prices have grown too. Menus often list lobsters "at daily market price," meaning, if you need to know the price, you probably can't afford it.
But you can afford it at home, at $9 to $11 a pound.
Chef and mystery writer Nicholas Freeling advised to "never go to a restaurant for something you can make at home." So I go to Chinese restaurants because life is too short to mince all the ingredients for an egg roll. But I cook lobster at home because all it needs is hot water and attention to timing.
The first question people ask about cooking lobsters concerns the scream of pain when the lobsters are immersed in hot water. A myth. The air inside the shell whistles when squeezed out by the heat.
To kill a lobster quickly, most cooks stick it head first into boiling water - life stops within seconds. Stabbing is even quicker: push the sharp point of a big chef's knife into the shell covering the head, about an inch behind the eyes. It's the humane way when you don't boil but steam or grill the lobster. If you still have qualms, fall back on tofu.
The simplest way is to cook the lobster in salted boiling water (sea water, if you have access, or add a tablespoonful of salt for each quart of water). Counting from the moment the water returns to full boil, cook for 10 minutes for the first pound, plus three minutes for each additional pound.
Steaming makes a more tender and flavourful lobster; hot water that may toughen the meat doesn't get in the shell, nor does any flavour get diluted. Heat an inch of water at the bottom of a big pot, throw in the freshly killed lobster, cover tightly. Steam for 15 minutes for the first pound, then five minutes for each additional pound.
You can flavour your lobster with wine, herbs, garlic and onion in the liquid if you poach it. Simmer the aromatics for a few minutes in water (enough to cover the lobsters), then add the freshly killed lobsters and simmer, do not boil. Check a leg after 15 minutes: if it comes off easily, the lobster is done.
Eating a lobster takes more work than cooking it does, and you need tools. You can invest in a lobster cracker and thin picks to pull out bits of meat. But you can substitute a nut cracker or pliers, and bamboo skewers or an awl - less cost, less snob appeal but they get the meat out.
Twist off the claws, crack the shell and pull out the meat. Don't neglect the three-jointed arms that also contain meat. Then twist off the tail, cut the inside (the transparent ribbed side) with a sharp knife or scissors; squeeze the tail in your fist until the ribs crack. Lift out the thick tail meat, slice it across and enjoy.
Serious lobster lovers root out the last morsels of meat hiding in the carapace, the thin legs, and in the flat flippers at the end of the tail. In the carapace, you'll find a green goo - the tomalley or liver. It's good to eat on a crust of bread or to add to a sauce or bisque for flavour. The red bits in a female are eggs, not as exciting as caviar but still good to eat.
Don't even think of putting mayonnaise on lobster unless it's served cold. Dip the warm chunks of meat in melted butter seasoned with salt, lemon, and perhaps a little garlic. I would eat a chewy sourdough bread when corn is not in season.
Montreal Gazette

Organizations: Montreal Gazette

Geographic location: Quebec, Southwestern Nova Scotia, Canada South Korea

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