Cooking live lobster at home is not a task for the faint of heart. But here’s one thing seafood eaters don’t have to worry about.
“Lobsters don’t have vocal cords, alright? They do not exist in a lobster. They don’t scream,” said Susan Povich, who owns Red Hook Lobster Pound with her husband Ralph Gorham. “What you’re hearing is steam escaping from the carapace — from the hard shell of the body — if you hear anything. You might be hearing your child scream when you put the lobster in the water.”
If you’re feeling up for the task, lobster is in season year round. During the winter months, lobster have hard shells and a fuller, more briny, flavor, Povich explained. That’s because adult lobsters generally molt once or twice a year, and molting usually occurs in conjunction with the spring or fall change in water temperatures.
“After the lobster molts and the shells form up, I believe, is when you get that sort of sweet, summery, Maine lobster taste that everyone associates with lobster,” she added. So expect that to be in about a month, after the weather starts warming up.
At the Red Hook Lobster Pound, she serves two versions of lobster rolls: one with mayonnaise and another with butter. Povich, whose family hails from Bar Harbor, Maine, said that mayonnaise is how it’s traditionally served (with the exception of the famous Red’s Eats in Wiscasett, Maine). She coined the term “Connecticut lobster roll” to describe the butter version after reading about a salesman who requested the variation at a Connecticut restaurant.
When choosing a lobster to cook at home, Povich advised looking for one that’s lively. That means it should curve its tail and arch its torso like Superman when picked up.
(Photo: Susan Povich/Courtesy of Red Hook Lobster Pound)
For those feeling squeamish about cooking the lobster live but determined to press forward, Povich offered this tip. “If you want to kind of put the lobsters to sleep, you can put the lobsters in the freezer in a bag for 20 minutes before you put them in the water,” she said. “They do tend to go a bit dormant.”
At home, Povich combines boiling and steaming methods. She starts with a few inches of water in the bottom of the pot — about four fingers of water for four lobsters. She adds a varying combination of fennel, onion, carrots, bay leaf, beer, and peppercorns.
“I bring that to a … rolling boil,” Povich said. “I let those ingredients... season the water a little bit and then I put my lobsters in head first and put the lid on.” She said that method is faster than just steaming the lobsters, and recommends leaving hard-shell lobsters in for 15 to 20 minutes after the water returns to a rolling boil. A soft-shell lobster is done in about 12 minutes.
Here recipe for that method of cooking lobster is below.
- 4 lobsters (1.5 lbs each)
- 1 cup white wine or beer
- 1 onion, peeled and quartered
- 4 stalks celery — cut in thirds
- ¼ cup sea salt
- 4 bay leaves
- fennel tops (if you have some)
- 1 Tbs. Old Bay seasoning (optional)
Place all ingredients (except lobsters) in a tall pot. Fill with water so that water is 4 fingers tall (around 2.5 inches). Cover tightly and bring to a rolling boil. Turn heat down and simmer for 5 minutes. Place each lobster, head down, tail curled under, in the pot. Cover, and bring back to a rolling boil. After 5 minutes, uncover and rotate lobsters (bottom to top, top to bottom). Cover again, raise heat to high and steam/boil an additional 3-4 minutes for soft-shell lobsters or 6-7 minutes for hard-shell lobsters. Remove and let lobsters sit and drain for 5 minutes. (Add 2 minutes additional cooking time per additional lobster, though we don’t recommend cooking more than 4 at a time).