Greg's Grilled Lobster
Everybody's had boiled lobster, but I'm here to tell you that lobster is at its apex fresh from the grill.
Yes, the dry heat makes it just a bit chewier, but it is still plenty tender, and the concentrated flavors, undiluted by the boiling water, make it worth a little extra mastication. Best of all, grilled lobster is never mushy as boiled lobster can be.
This was my favorite method for cooking lobster until I developed an allergy to lobster, shrimp, and crawfish in the '90s. So I asked the AmazingRibs.com science advisor, Dr. Greg Blonder if he had a recipe for lobster, and sonofagun, he gave me a refined version of the one I used to cook, loved so much, but never wrote down.
Lobsters sold in the US are usually either cold water or warm water, and there is a big difference.
Cold water lobsters, also known as Maine lobsters, are dark, usually black or brown, sometimes greenish, with two large front claws (right). Most come from Maine but some come from the cool waters further down the coast.
Warm water lobsters, sometimes called Florida lobsters, spiny lobsters, or rock lobsters, usually come from the Caribbean or the Gulf of Mexico. Spiny lobsters haven't got the big meaty claws of the cold water specimens and they tend to be tan or orange. They look more like humongous shrimp with really thick antennae. In the photo here, by my diving/photography/philanthropist/wine/foodie buddy Peter Parts, you can see there are no claws. Since almost all the meat is in their tails, when you buy frozen lobster tails you almost always get warm water lobster tails. Cold water lobsters are usually sold whole because the claw meat is so highly prized. Warm water lobsters can grow to one pound in weight within two to three years and can add a pound a year.
If you want the succulent claw meat, get fresh, live Maine lobsters which are available all year round. Maine lobsters are usually from 1 1/2 to 2 pounds. Anything under one pound is illegal. A typical 1 1/2 pound lobster will have less than one pound of raw tail and claw meat. Occasionally three to four pounders are caught but they usually go to restaurants. It takes cold water lobsters seven years to grow to one pound, and three years to add a second pound, so most are 7 to 10 years old. Pick an animal that is lively, walking or swimming. A listless specimen with a curled tail and meat visible between the tail and the upper thoracic carapace is a bad choice. Don't worry if there is a little green algae in the lobster tank.
If you boil a lobster, it does not scream. The whistling sound is air and steam passing through the shell.
There is no evidence that early New Englanders, or their slaves, or their servants, or prisoners, or anyone else were required to eat lobster or salmon twice a week because they were so abundant.
But this is no myth: In Maine it is pronounced "lobstah".
Make lobster bisque from the shells!
When you are done with your grilled lobster feast, save the shells, especially the upper carapace with the gills, and the legs. There's no way to get all the meat and flavor out of them. In fact, when you eat your lobster, leave a little meat in there so you can make lobster bisque, a heavenly cream soup.
Makes. About 1 cup
Optional. Add a small pinch of saffron when you add the shells.
2) Break the shells and crack open the legs. There's lots of flavor in the legs. Submerge them in the pot. Simmer over medium low for 2 to 3 hours to extract as much flavor as you can.
3) While it is simmering, strip the ear of corn of all husk and tassels, paint it with olive oil, and grill it over medium heat until the kernels start to brown. Let the corn cool enough to handle, and cut the tip off the corn so you can place the end on a cutting board for more stability. Then slice the kernels off and set them aside. Cut the cob into four pieces and add it to the pot.
4) Strain the liquid, add the corn kernels, crank the heat to high, and reduce the liquid to about 1 cup per lobster. Reduce to a low simmer, add the dairy. If you have leftover lobster meat, throw it in. Taste it and salt it to taste. Then, just before serving, stir in the remaining butter and stir til it melts.
Live Maine lobsters will have rubber bands on the large front claws. Leave them on until after they are dead. They may appear sluggish, but they can still give you a serious owie. Always grasp a lobster from above by the solid shell on the upper half, never by the tail. There are some sharp edges on that tail that can gash you if it flips its tail. Even when dead, those edges are hazardous. Handle with care.
You should cook a live lobster the same day you get it although it will stay alive and fresh in the fridge for 3 to 4 days if it has been handles well. Never submerge a saltwater lobster in fresh water. This will kill it. If you have to keep it a day or two, put it in a pot so it does not crawl around in the fridge, put about 1/4" water in the bottom just to keep it moist, and cover it with a damp cloth. Lobsters can breathe air so they will be fine.
Sometimes, during the summer, on the coast of Maine, you can get soft shell lobster, which is a crustacean that has outgrown its hard shell, grown a new tender, shell inside, and then molted it's old, outgrown home. In order to slide out of the old shell the animal squeezes out some of its water, concentrating the flavor in the meat. Alas, there is a lot less meat in a "shedders". These "softies" are almost impossible to find outside Maine because they don't ship as well as hard shells. Even in Boston they are rare.
When it comes to cooking lobster, Blonder's advice is "Keep it simple, or you'll obscure the flavor of the sea." My advice: "Gather ye lobsters while ye may, for tomorrow ye shall surely become allergic.
Greg's Grilled Lobster
Serves. 2, but you'll want corn or side dishes
Takes. 30 minutes
2 whole live Maine lobsters, each about 1 1/2 pounds
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon chives
1/4 teaspoon salt
cracked pepper to taste
2 lemon wedges (optional)
About the herbs. Fresh tarragon is nice, or herbs de Provence. I generally avoid garlic or shallots because they can overshadow the sweet lobster meat. If you use dried herbs, use 1/2 teaspoon.
About the butter. If you use salted butter, cut the salt in half. Remember, you can always add salt but you can't take it away.
1) Preheat the grill with a direct heat zone about medium hot, in the 400°F plus range. Prepare the basting sauce by melting the butter over medium heat or right on your grill, and add the rest of the ingredients. Let the flavors blend for a bit but be careful not to let the butter turn brown.
2) You can kill the lobster quickly and painlessly. There are two methods.
(A) For grilling, "pithing" is preferred although you can parboil it if you are squeemish. To pith, place the lobster in a pan. Place the tip of a sharp heavy chef's knife on its back about 1/2" behind the eyes with the sharp edge facing forward. Plunge the knife right into its "brain" all the way through and slice downward cutting the head right between the eyes and severing all major nerves. You may see it continue to twitch afterwards, but trust me, it is quite dead and, because you've cut the nerves, it feels no pain. Then place the lobster in a sheet pan or baking with its legs in the air, and cut the lobster in half along the mid line. Save any juices that emerge, and mix into the basting sauce. Be careful to hold it firmly so it doesn't slip around.
(B) If you don't like pithing, then you can get a big pot of water boiling and slip the lobster in head first and leave it there for no more than a minute. Also, and I hesitate to point out the obvious, remove the rubber bands on the claws.
3) Remove the roe and tomalley from the head area. Roe, sometimes called coral, is a sac of eggs in females. They are dark green or black when fresh, and reddish or orange when cooked. You may even see some in the tail if the female was laying. The tomalley is part of the digestive system and it is pale green. Beginning in 2008 the US Food & Drug Administration issued a warning against eating the tomalley because it is the filter system of the lobster. All the experts say there is absolutely no problem with the meat because the tomalley is so good at what it does. Some folks look for the digestive tract in the tail and try to remove as they do in shrimp, but Blonder says that most supermarket lobsters to have pretty clean digestive tracts compared to fresh off the boat, probably because they have been kept in carefully filtered tanks for a while.
4) Place the lobsters, shell side down, on a medium hot direct heat very clean grill grate, hot enough to sear hamburgers, but not char them. Position the shell between two rungs in your cooking grate to hold it from rolling. You may have to manipulate the large claw, or place two halves side-by-side, to keep them from rolling. Some folks start them meat side down for 2 to 3 minutes to get a bit more smoke flavor and some grill marks, but that tends to dry them out a bit. Blonder usually cooks shell down all the way.
5) Baste the meat with the butter, close the lid, and open it to baste once again after 3 to 4 minutes.
6) When the meat in the thickest part of the tail hits a minimum of 145°F, and it has changed from translucent to pearly white, after perhaps 6 to 10 minutes, the lobster is done. Baste one last time.
7) Remove from the heat and then crack open the claws with a mallet, rolling pin, meat tenderizer, hammer, empty wine bottle, or use kitchen shears. Serve with any leftover sauce for dunking, and squeeze the lemon wedges on the meat if you wish. You can suck on the feathery gills and the small legs, or you can leave them alone and use them for making lobster bisque (see sidebar). Leftover lobster meat is great on a sandwich with mayo, and it is especially good mixed in with mac and cheese.
This page was revised 2/11/2013
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