Last Chance Foods: For Lobster Eaters Only

Friday, March 14, 2014

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.

Lobster in a Pot 
by Red Hook Lobster Pound

  • 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).


Susan Povich

Hosted by:

Amy Eddings


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Comments [5]

Pj from Brooklyn

I'm pleasantly surprised that the people who commented on this so far are not okay with this. Lobsters may not have vocal cords but they are sentient, they have a nervous system, and above all, their bodies and lives don't belong to you. Unfortunately, lobsters aren't the only animals being boiled alive for food. Many pigs for example are still conscious when they are dunked into boiling water to soften their hide. Chickens and turkeys are also boiled alive due to fast moving production lines. Although this is horrendous, it's only a small slice of the torture that animals enslaved for food endure, and ultimately it's not the issue. We're stealing someone's life when it's not necessary. There is an abundance of non-animal derived food available. To feel that someone doesn't even have the most basic right- the right to their own life, is such a cruel and elitist stance to take. Humans have such a deranged relationship with animals being that fundamentally, we love them.

Mar. 16 2014 04:56 PM
Bernie from UWS

I agree, boiling an animal live is barbaric and unfortunately, "foodies" tend to fetishize this sort of behavior as some sort of evidence of the natural order of things.

I'm not a vegetarian but I know there are more humane ways to cook meat than torturing animals.

Mar. 16 2014 09:14 AM
Madeleine from brooklyn

Yes, this was definitely about "last chance" food. I agree with the others that this show was sickening. You don't have to be a vegetarian to be revolted by the idea of throwing a live creature in boiling water, or, even worse, steaming it slowly. The commentators really need to rethink their "sophisticated" attitudes about food.

Mar. 15 2014 10:33 AM
Melinda Buckley from NYC

I also found the commentary to be crass and it's changed my opinion about this host. Hearing someone say, "I have no qualms about throwing them in head first to a pot of boiling water--" and laughing about it, was really disappointing. Here's a recent article published by the Washington Post that suggests that lobsters, crabs and other invertebrates do indeed feel pain. There are humane ways to kill a lobster before boiling it alive and I wish this message could have been communicated to your audience rather than encouraging more people to heartless because a lobster can't scream. It certainly doesn't mean, it can't feel pain. This particular program just lost a listener... And while a lobster may not have vocal chords, I do and I will be sure to 'vocalize' my disappointment with this program across social media.

Mar. 14 2014 06:13 PM
Sabine Roehr from Jersey City

It's bad enough that people still throw live animals into boiling water, but then to joke about it? "Oh, they don't have vocal cords, so don't worry, they can't scream even if they want to?" This just takes my breath away for the shear callousness of it.

This comes after a completely tone-deaf report on Brian Lehrer about the carriage horses around Central Park and an equally appalling segment on Radio Lab about Chinese people throwing live chickens to lions in a zoo - without any kind of acknowledgement that what goes on actually has nothing to do with the natural world, contrary to what those involved want to claim.

Sorry, but I am ready to stop my subscription after many years of listening to you.

Mar. 14 2014 05:56 PM

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About Last Chance Foods

Last Chance Foods covers produce that’s about to go out of season, gives you a heads up on what’s still available at the farmers market and tells you how to keep it fresh through the winter.


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