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?
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.
- 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
- Fresh coriander
- 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.
- 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
- Coriandre fraiche
- 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.