Cracking the Code‒ Your Guide to Cooking Lobster

“Bon Appetit!”

Julie in Julie and Julia readies to poach her first lobster, in a bid to cook the legendary Julia Child’s Lobster Thermidor.

You don’t really need to read a guide for cooking lobster; you can easily watch the legendary Julia Child handle, cook and serve these live crustaceans ranging from a small chicken-sized kid to a 20-pound “Bertha Behemoth” on her classic The French Chef. The charmingly high-pitched Julia picks up a rustling creature with a firm, steady hand, the same way most of us would lift an apple. She goes on to calmly explain how these not-really-easy-on-the-eyes-but-so-delish creatures are caught, then shows how easily they can be poached or steamed, and goes on to show how to make a cold lobster salad. It was all in a day’s work for her, so there’s none of that nervousness of Amy Adams aka Julie Powell in Julie and Julia, where Julie’s out to conquer her idol Julia Child’s Lobster Thermidor that starts with boiling live lobsters. Her husband helpfully croons ‘Lobster Killer’ in the background. 
It’ll probably take us a while to make cooking lobster look that easy, but the results are so encouraging even the first time, you’ll wonder why you don’t do it more often. Whether you use live lobsters or frozen to seal in freshness and for ease of convenience that are as good, it starts with your choice of lobster: there are 49 species found across the world. These belong to either of the 2 groups—clawed and spiny. Clawed lobsters exhibit two kinds of differently-sized claws; the larger one of these is used for crushing prey and the smaller is the ‘cutter’ that aids in slicing. Spiny lobsters, also called rock lobsters, have antennae instead of claws, and inhabit warm waters. Lobsters of both kinds have 2 stomachs, the first of which is used to crush food, the second to digest it. Lobsters are mostly carnivorous, but eat algae etc. and occasionally each other—they are known to exhibit cannibalistic behaviour, which is why they are difficult to breed in captivity. They come in various colours like grey, orange, even bright blue, but they all turn red when cooked. 
“He’s (Not) Her Lobster!”

The spiny lobster is the most commonly found and consumed in India; the meat is majorly in the tail.

Contrary to popular lore, lobsters do not mate for life (sorry, Phoebe), but are serial monogamists—they will choose a single mate at a time. Like some varieties of crab, lobsters can regenerate limbs, and live for a long time. Also, similar to crabs, lobsters moult and shed their hard outer shells to grow, so there are hard shell and soft shell lobsters, depending on the stage in the moulting cycle. 
Also known as sea crayfish (not related to freshwater crayfish or ‘crawfish’), the spiny lobster is the most commonly found and consumed in India. Since it lacks claws, the meat is found almost completely in the tail. Lobster meat, once cooked, is white and firm. Considered mild and less sweet than crab by most people, it is nevertheless tasty with melted butter and a squeeze of lemon. Of course, if you drown it in butter, the fat calories stack up quickly, but by itself, lobster meat is lean with a lot of protein; 3 ounces of cooked lobster weigh in at 76 calories, with an amazing 16.2 grams of protein and 0.7 of fat. Also rich in zinc, copper, vitamin B-12 and other nutrients, the cholesterol in a single serving may seem glaring, but let’s not forget the good omega-3 fats we’re looking at. 
Lobsters may now be considered a premium treat, but once upon a time were so plentiful, they were looked upon as the food of poor people; some of the indentured work hands in the colonial era in Massachusetts rebelled against being served lobster every day and got it pared down to 3 times a week. 
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Boiling or poaching lobsters is the easiest and most popular method of cooking.

Live lobsters are best cooked within 24 hours from the time of catching. Cooked meat can be refrigerated up to 3 days; frozen meat obviously keeps for much longer. Thawing frozen lobster meat or whole lobsters involve the same steps as thawing fish; 10-12 hours in the refrigerator or plunging the sealed bag in cold water. Boiling a whole lobster makes shelling (here’s a great guide) and picking meat easy, or you could opt for lobster meat. Boiling or gentle poaching also renders a great lobster-flavoured stock which is the beginning of a richly flavoured bisque, or even a full-bodied lobster masala, as Shumu Gupta, co-founder Fishvish says. Lobster meat, unlike most seafood, is pretty hardy, and can stand to longer periods of cooking. Cooked meat makes putting the final dish together a breeze, whether you sauté it in a creamy butter garlic sauce or braise it quickly in a spicy curry.
Both are excellent and exciting ways to enjoy the luscious flavours of the meat. There’s plenty of recipe inspiration around if you look for it—from dressing up cooked meat in mayo, parsley, celery and lemon and stuffing the salad into buttered rolls for a quick New England lobster roll dinner to amping up everyday-mac-and-cheese to decadent levels. The French may or may not have the best take on lobster, but there’s no denying that a Lobster Thermidor, especially the one by Julia Child mentioned above takes indulgence to a precarious level. The French can also be thanked (and blamed) for giving the world luxurious lobster bisque. Just don’t plan to cook both thermidor and bisque the same day; Shumu will attest to that, and will, hopefully, tell the story of his long ride some day. If the double cream, white wine, sherry seem a bit excessive to you however, there’s always this equally satisfying but much lighter chilled lobster consomméAfter all, cooking lobster doesn’t need to involve butter, cream and cheese every time; Southeast Asian has delicious dishes that do away with rich dairy, but can easily hold their own every time in a battle of taste. There’s Lobster Cantonese, promisingly described as “the kind of over-the-top meal guests will talk about for days afterward” that is finished with a splash of earthy sesame oil. There’s roasted lobster with an aromatic Asian-style ginger sauce; the roasting can be easily changed to grilling. Stir-fried lobster is easy to do, and seals in flavour and nutrients.
Deep-fried lobster stir-fried with aromatic fragrant ginger and spring onions is a popular Asian meal.
Closer home, lobsters may be more popular along the coast, but with easy availability inland, don’t have to be saved for your next beach vacation. Fire up the stove and chop up fresh ingredients for a simple but so-yum Indian-style Lobster in Creamy Buttery Sauce. Serve up a Kerala Lobster Nadan Roast with a side salad for lunch. If nothing else, there’s always lobster sautéed in butter and garlic, with a hit of green chilli peppers and black pepper. 
Eat, drink, and be merry

Whatever the occasion, lobsters make for a scrumptious, elegant and celebratory meal.

Celebratory by itself, lobster doesn’t really need to rely on wine to bring a festive vibe, but there are quite a few whites that pair suitably and bring out the best notes of this extravagant spotlight-stealer. A crisp Chardonnay will be great with lobster drizzled with melted butter, but an oaky white Rioja is also a strong contending mate. Some oenophiles also recommend a Provencal rose, that, unusual as it is in its selection, will actually cut through the richness of a thermidor or bisque. With an Asian-style lobster dish, consider serving an acidic Riesling. Of course, with the luxury lobsters are now associated with, toasting with flutes of champagne would be the ideal deal.
Lobster on the menu may be reserved for special occasions, but it can certainly brighten up a regular day. Go ahead, and indulge; after all, every day gives you something to be joyous and grateful for, isn’t it?

About the Author
An incorrigible gastronome, Rupika V is on a perpetual quest to find the best food around, and will happily travel far to find it.

Image Credit: Cover
Image Credit: Julia Child’s Lobster
Image Credit: The spiny lobster
Image Credit: poaching lobster
Image Credit: Deep-fried lobster
Image Credit: Lobster meal

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