Me and the Lobsters — Moi et les homards

Maine Lobster

I was dealing with them alive for the first time. Because whenever the opportunity arose before me, I would freak out and unconsciously shy away from them.

I cannot put them in the pot alive. I’ve heard that they scream, and that would scare the hell out of me,” I would invariably tell my friend R. when he asked for the reason why I had not yet cooked a live lobster.

To this, he would smile back, as if to tell me something like “C’mon Béa!” But then, he is a medical doctor, so of course he will not be scared of cooking lobsters live as I am! It was also at his house that I had attended my first lobster bake two years before.

Living in New England and admitting that you have never cooked lobster could be compared to saying that you are French and you do not eat camembert. Maine lobster — also known as Atlantic lobster — is a specialty of the North American Atlantic coast, and like many people living here, I have plenty of memories of times when I ate this delicious food delicacy: in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Maine and Massachusetts of course. But despite the fact that I love to eat lobster, I had never cooked these marine crustaceans alive until this past Friday. I had been willing to on many occasions, but always found a reason not to. Well, in fact, it was a little more complicated than that. If someone else would have put the lobsters in the pot, I would have had no problem at all. I just could not do it myself.

So when Katie from Sagamore Lobster Company kindly contacted me a few weeks ago to ask whether I would be interested in trying their Maine lobster, I knew that I had to say yes. I felt fascinated and scared at the same time, but excited to finally get my first opportunity to cook live lobsters. If she asked me, I had no choice but to say of course, hadn’t I? She and I exchanged a few emails to decide of the best time to make this happen — I wanted to make sure that I would have plenty of time to go through the process, you see — and we finally agreed that I would get my delivery on Friday. Little did I know about what I was getting into.

The last few days had been scorchingly hot in Boston, and to tell the truth, when Friday came, I had almost forgotten about the lobsters. Until 10 AM when the Fedex truck pulled in front of our house.

“Merde, les homards !” I thought as I looked outside. (Shit, the lobsters!)

My initial plan was to wait for the evening to cook them, when P. would be around. While I would take care of everything else, cut them open, find and cook a nice recipe to use them in, he might be the one to drop them into the pot, just in case I would not be able to. That was our deal. But there were two things that I had forgotten to take into account. The outside thermometer already indicated 98 F (36 C) when it was only 10 AM, and my fridge was full. The lobsters simply could not wait: they had to be cooked right away.

I ran to the attic upstairs to look for my preserve pot, the biggest I had in the house. I filled it with water and salt, and then decided to open my Fedex box. With a hesitant hand, I slowly started to lift the Styrofoam lid, also feeling my heartbeat go faster by the second. Two bubble wrap sheets were placed on top of a few iced packs with, at that point, still no sign of any lobster inside the box. “Ils sont en-dessous,” I heard myself say (they are underneath). I carefully pulled the bubble wraps and icepacks up, and then I saw them. There they were indeed, staring at me. At that point, I do not know what was feeling the oddest. Me standing there looking as if I had discovered a monster, or the poor lobsters looking at me from inside their Styrofoam box. I think we all looked scared. “Il y en a combien ?” I wondered (how many are there?) The one on top kept moving its long tentacles, and all I could see was the black eyes staring in my direction. I quickly closed the box and rushed to my computer. I needed quick tips and talk about what I was getting into with P. What would he advise that I should do?

AIM Conversation between P. and Me.

Me: The lobsters arrived!

P.: Wow cool! How many?

M.: Euh, I don’t know, I cannot see. Two, I think…. I have not looked too much. But the one on top moves, a lot.

P.: Well of course Béa. They are alive.

M.: Mince, you are not here, and I have to cook them now. It’s too hot outside, and the fridge is full! There is nowhere to put them.

P.: Bummer! Sorry!

M.: I do not know how to pick them up. They scare me when they move!

P.: Take them by the body.

M.: NO WAY!

P.: Take a glove then!

M.: “NON NON NON!”

Pause (me thinking)

M.: “I am going to try with tongs, if I can find a pair somewhere.”

I got up and walked to the kitchen island. After opening a few drawers and fumbling through them, I finally found a pair of sturdy tongs. “These will do,” I thought. I walked back to the box and lifted the lid again with the same hesitation. The same pair of ink-black eyes stared at me. “C’mon Béa”, I kept repeating to myself, “it is no big deal, you have done worse. Do it quickly!” I opened the tongs as wide as I could and placed them around the body of the first lobster. I closed them tight and started to lift, but the lobster slipped and fell back into the box. A small shriek came out of my mouth while my heart beat even faster. “Merde !” I thought. I had to find another solution. “I will try with two pair of tongs. One on each side.” Luck was on my side, I managed to find a second pair. This time, with the two pairs of tongs on each side, I managed to lift the lobster tight and high. It kept fidgeting its tail in all directions. Oh God, I had to be fast! “Drop the head first,” I had read. So I did.

Plouf! It went down into the pot full of rolling water. I had two more to do.

As I felt more assured already, the second one strangely felt easier. Yet, whether it was because of the heat produced by the boiling water or the lack of air-conditioning in the kitchen, all I could feel was that my cheeks were pink red and my hair all tangled up. When came the third one, I was starting to feel relieved. It went even easier. Plouf ! Done! I closed the lid quickly and set up the timer. Six minutes for lobsters weighing one pound.

M.: “Eh, they are cooking!” I typed quickly in my messenger window still open.

P.: “Wow, well done!”

After the 6 minutes elapsed, I heard the beeper go off. I rushed to the stove and lifted the lid. The lobsters were pink red. They were definitely ready. I then confidently pulled them out of the pot and placed them in a dish full of iced water to stop them from cooking more.

I could start to relax, paused and smiled. Wow, did it really take me nine years of living in Boston before I was able to cook my first live lobsters? I had finally overcome my fear of doing it. I know, no biggie for many people, but for me, what an accomplishment!

I returned to the computer, and pulled up a messenger window again to chat with P.

M.: “I COOKED MY FIRST LOBSTERS! YEAH! We are eating an Asian Lobster soup tonight. It’d better be good!”

Not only was it delicious, but I am now dying to try again.

Thank you Katie!

PS: The recipe of this soup is inspired and adapted from one that I found in an old copy of Elle à Table. I added the corn which adds a lovely sweet crunchy touch, and modified the steps and ingredient proportions according to my taste: I filtered the broth, decided not to cook the radish as suggested, and added scallions.

Asian-style Lobster Soup

Asian-Style Lobster Soup

(for 2 to 3 main course dishes, according to appetite)

You need:

  • 3 live lobsters, about 1 lb each
  • 2 lemongrass sticks
  • 1 can of coconut milk (14 oz)
  • 2 + 1/8 cups water
  • 5 coriander seeds, crushed
  • 4 peppercorns, crushed
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced thinly
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 scallion
  • 2 oz ginger root, chopped
  • 9 oz romanesco broccoli, steamed for 2 to 3 min
  • 1 corn ear
  • A few red radishes, sliced thinly
  • 4 Tbsp vegetal oil
  • Salt
  • Fresh coriander

Steps:

  • Boil the lobster for 6 min in rolling water.
  • Cool in iced water and then break the claws and tails. Keep the heads and legs of the lobsters.
  • Cut the tails open with a scissor and remove the meat. Use a nutcracker to open the claws and remove the meat. Reserve.
  • Chop the garlic and ginger.
  • Slice the scallion and keep.
  • Slice the lemongrass.
  • Heat the oil in a large wok and then add the garlic, onion, ginger and lemongrass. Cook for 1 min or 2.
  • Add the head and legs of the lobsters. Cook for 2 min while stirring.
  • Add the coconut milk and water. Season with salt and the coriander seeds and peppercorns. Cover and cook for 10 to 15 min.
  • In the meantime, prepare the vegetables. Boil the corn for 3 to 4 min and cut the kernels. Keep.
  • Steam the romanesco broccoli for 3 min and keep.
  • Slice the radishes thinly.
  • Filter the broth.
  • Add the vegetables, lobster meat and serve with fresh coriander and the scallion.
Le coin français
Soupe de homard style asiatique

(pour 2 à 3 plats principaux, selon l’appétit)

Ingrédients :

  • 3 homards vivants, environ 450 g chacun
  • 2 branches de citronnelle
  • 1 boîte de lait de coco non sucré (414 ml)
  • 1/2 l d’eau
  • 5 graines de coriandre, pilées
  • 4 graines de poivre noir, pilées
  • 1 oignon rouge moyen, émincé finement
  • 2 gousses d’ail, écrasées
  • 50 g racine de gingembre, hachée
  • 250 g chou romanesco
  • 1 épis de maïs
  • Quelques radis roses, émincés finement
  • 1 oignon tige
  • 4 càs d’huile végétale
  • Sel
  • Coriandre fraiche

Étapes :

  • Cuisez les homards dans de l’eau bouillante salée pendant environ 6 min.
  • Placez-les ensuite dans de l’eau glacée. Cassez les queues et les pinces. Gardez les têtes et les pâtes.
  • Ouvrez les queues à l’aide d’une paire de ciseaux et retirez la chair. Utilisez un casse-noix pour ouvrir les pinces. Mettez la chair de côté.
  • Hachez l’ail et le gingembre.
  • Émincez l’oignon tige et réservez.
  • Coupez la citronnelle en rondelles.
  • Faites chauffer l’huile dans un wok et ajoutez l’ail, l’oignon, le gingembre et la citronnelle. Faites cuire pendant 1 à 2 min en remuant.
  • Ajoutez ensuite les têtes et les pâtes des homards, et poursuivez la cuisson pendant 2 min en remuant.
  • Ajoutez le lait de coco, l’eau, les graines de poivre et de coriandre. Salez et couvrez. Cuisez pendant 10 à 15 min sur feu moyen. Gardez au chaud.
  • Pendant ce temps, préparez vos légumes. Faites cuire l’épis de maïs dans de l’eau bouillante salée pendant 3 à 4 min. Prélevez les graines (avec un couteau) et réservez.
  • Faites cuire le chou romanesco à la vapeur pendant 3 min et réservez.
  • Coupez les radis en rondelles fines.
  • Passez le bouillon chaud au chinois.
  • Ajoutez les légumes, la chair de homard détaillée et servez avec de la coriandre fraîche et les rondelles d’oignon tige.

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Posted in Fish, Gluten Free, Soup | 62 Comments

62 comments

  1. Well done you!

    I am still scared of the lobsters (I live in Boston, too, so it’s a shame). I made my dad and boyfriend drop them in the only time we’ve cooked them at home.

    The recipe looks divine!

  2. The soup looks great and I’m glad you overcame your fear. I don’t think I could have been as brave as you :)

  3. Reading your post was so much more entertaining after having met you…I could imagine you relaying it with much enthusiasm. I love lobster but I have only cooked it once by myself and I have to admit that I hesitated as well. Next time I should try your double tong method out!!

  4. hehehe I love your story. I also love that FedEx delivers live lobsters. Who would have thought!

  5. A great read! I would also freak out if I had to cook my own lobsters. You were very courageous! I don’t think I would have been able to drop them in the boiling water…

    A gorgeous recipe and superb pictures, as usual! Bravo!!!

  6. A very entertaining account Bea! I’ve love the pink and green theme to the soup too – the romanesco broccoli looks really pretty.

    In Ye Olde England (where we’re very squeamish about our food) and many people don’t like the idea of boiling something that is still alive, it is common to put lobsters into the deep freeze for the last two hours before cooking them. That way the lobster has lost consciousness before you put it into the water (better for the lobster) and as an added bonus it doesn’t stare back at you any more :-) Not that it sounds like you had time or space this time but I thought it might be useful titbit to pass on.

  7. Well done, I can sympathize. I cooked my first lobster on a sailing trip in the north of Scotland in a small galley kitchen in a pot just barely big enough…and I did make the mistake with the first one to put it tail in first!! But after that it got easier and tasted great!! I wish we could get some lobster here to try your soup!

  8. Congratulations, Bea! You are now officially a New Englander. And the soup you created looks delicious.

  9. Bravo Béa! Chez moi, c’est toujours mon mari qui prend le rôle d’assassin, je ne l’ai jamais fait. Merci pour le récit qui m’a trop fait rire.

  10. What an entertaining story Bea. Glad you overcame your lobster fear, because the soup looks gorgeous.

  11. Have you ever seen the movie Annie Hall? There is a great lobster cooking scene that you will enjoy now that you have done it.

  12. Que de frissons juste à te lire!
    Je n’ai encore jamais franchis cette étape encore… quelle honte! Encore plus risible: j’ai toujours du mal à arracher la première patte du cervidé écarlate gissant , apétissant, dans mon assiette, ce qui amuse bien mon mari à chaque fois.
    J’adore le homard, il faudra bien que, moi aussi, je m’y mette un jour!

  13. You’re gutsy! I always used to leave the kitchen when my mother boiled lobsters or crabs. Looks absolutely delicious, and I love how you tell the story – I feel like I was with you every step of the way.

  14. I love that story!! You really made me feel like I was standing in the kitchen with you! I’m allergic to lobster (sadly) so I guess I won’t be cooking any of those little beasts any time soon…

  15. Great Job Bea! The hubby and I just learned how to process a lobster recently in boot camp. The chef showed us how to quickly drive a knife between the eyes. But yes, I’ve seen Julia Child just drop the lobster in boiling water.

  16. Oh Bea, this was such a funny story. I’m just like you when it comes to lobsters – or just like you used to be, I should say. :) I have trouble killing spiders, so I don’t know how I will EVER manage to kill a lobster – just contemplating it freaks me out! As your experience shows, however, there may be hope for me yet…

  17. I too have always been sqeamish about cooking live lobsters – especially the part about dropping them in the boiling water alive and hearing them scream as everyone says! So this is what you do: place your lobsters in a pot of cold water, and bring the water up to a boil. The poor lobsters won’t feel a thing, and it will be easier on you :) Also some people say the meat is more tender this way, but that’s for you to decide.

  18. I love the way you recount your stories! It reminds me of the first time I bought a whole fish to cook. It was a “Bar” which I bought at the poissonerie in Paris. I had eaten grilled hareng, and anchovies, and ‘dorade au four’ at the restaurants, but suddenly I was holding the fish in my hand, head and tail, and I freaked out! later at dinner, I could not eat the fish I had cooked, I had to trust everyone else that it was delicious.

  19. That story is hilarious, Bea — I love it! The soup sounds delightful, too, and the photos, of course, are divine. I’m glad you broke through and managed to get those lobsters cooked!

  20. I am so lame with them that I do them “Julia Style”, maybe not culiary accurate but it makes for a good show!

  21. Pour une première, c’est très réussi ! et cette soupe à l’air délicieuse et légère. J’aurais bien jeter le même sort à deux gros tourteaux bretons… mais sans doute ai-je eu pitié… pour cette fois…

  22. Wow, what a story. I guess Lobsters are one of those things where, you see other people panicking and think “God, just do it!” But you know full well that if it were you, you’d be exactly the same, not knowing where to begin.

    Good on you!

  23. That would so be me! I don’t like eating something that can stare at me, but you overcame your fear, and I guess its time for me to get over mine.

  24. Well done, Bea! My father is a veterinarian and he says lobsters are no big deal. He makes a wonderful lobster filled crepe, actually. I can tell you that I’m also afraid of lobsters, but love to eat them. This recipe looks wonderful!

  25. Who knew cooking lobsters could be so exciting? You had me on tenderhooks the whole time!

  26. Great tale! It brought back so many funny lobster memories of my own. I was raised near Boston and grew up handling lobsters. When I moved to California, where it was difficult to even buy a lobster, everyone seemed to be afraid of them. One day I bought one in a grocery store. The fish department packed it in a little cardboard carrying box for me. I held it as I was doing a little more shopping and in the middle of an aisle, the bottom fell out and the lobster was flipping around on the floor. Other customers actually started screaming! Then they screamed louder when I picked it up (by the back, of course) and carried it back to the fish department. I got a good laugh. More recently, I brought home some lobsters and for some reason I thought it would be very humane of me to let them have some fresh water in my kitchen sink, while I was preparing their “death bed” of boiling water (I know that makes no sense whatsoever!) As soon as I put them in the sink, I realized why one should never do that. They immediately started thrashing around trying to swim and scurry. My kitchen was covered with water splashing everyhwhere. Thanks for sharing your wonderful story.

  27. Lovely story that brings shame upon me! I’ve lived in Massachusetts all my life and have never cooked a lobster. It scares the heck out of me! I’m glad it all worked out for you though and such inspiring photos as always!

  28. Good job! I have yet to cook my first live crustacean! You have certainly inspired me! And that soup sounds fantastic!

  29. J’adore ton histoire, as it reminds me of myself and my mother (who is not a doctor like your friend R.) but even worse …. a New Brunswick maritimer! And knows no mercy when it comes to cooking lobsters. To my cold feet about them screaming, she grabs one, drops it in the pot, closes the lid without a second glance and says “it is just the pressure being released from the shell”. I ask you… what was I too reply ;) She will be delight with this recipe, I will pass it along.

  30. funny! growing up in the Boston area cooking losta for me is 2nd nature so your story brought a new perspective. I can’t tell you how many novice lobsta eatas have out here in CA have asked me to breakdown their lobsta. My price, one claw, :-)

  31. Wonderful job, Bea! I wonder about the screaming bit – if it’s really the lobsters, or the folks cooking them going “OH MY GOODNESS IT’S LOOKING AT ME!”. I have not yet gotten over my fears, but you have inspired me to try.

  32. Whenever I see the lobsters with tied up claws in the water tank at the grocery store, I feel so bad. I don’t think I could even fathom opening up my own lobster package by myself and just putting them into their misery. You personalized them so much, with their staring eyes. But how quickly we all forget when they taste so good! Oh the food chain…

  33. J’adore le homard … Et ta recette de soupe au homard me plait énormément, so chic, si épurée … J’adore !!!

  34. Feel for you! Cooked my first live crab earlier this year and was traumatised at the thought of picking it up and dropping it in the pot. Mostly picking it up though!

  35. Aww… I think that if I had personified the lobsters as much as you had, I wouldn’t have been able to cook them at all. It helps to remember that they’re essentially giant cockroaches, with about the same amount of brain and nervous system.

  36. Ah Béa, that’s so cute. You’ve been living in Boston for how many years? They taste great, don’t they? I used to buy them in the fish shop across from where I lived in the North End when I lived there in the early 80s. $5 a pound. Those were the days. Yummmmm.

  37. OMG!
    What a wildly funny post Bea :))
    I feel like an ax murderer after reading this…
    I have boiled many lobsters, but it was the grilling of lobsters that made a true criminal of me.
    You take a big Chinese knife…
    I will say no more
    B R A V O !

  38. Ohh bea, that’s a funny post. I’ve never cooked a lobster too and I strongly suspect that I will probably react the same way too if I were you. I love the sound of the lobster soup. It looks fabulous, especially love the little strainer thing.

    ps. congrats on DMBLGIT honour for July. :)

  39. Thank you very much all for your comments and sharing your tips and stories too. It will surely help me for the next time!

  40. This is the first time I’ve been to your blog and I instantly fell in love with it. It’s so funny and I love the way you include French phrases in your blog!

    What a beautiful looking soup!

  41. This soup looks divine! Lobster is such a chore, but such a treat! The work and fear comes with great reward!

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