Most of us regard lobster as a special and expensive treat but when you find yourself paying £10 a pound for sea bass then, all of a sudden, the costly crustacean does not seem quite so rich and rare after all. Having said this, you must allow at least
The British blue lobster is the best in the world and certainly a superior cousin to the Maine variety, which is why most of them are exported to France. May and June are the seasonal months to buy, and if you should be in a seaside fishing village you will find this is one of the few sea creatures fishermen will be happy to sell you direct.
When buying lobster, remember that it may have been in a distributor’s holding tank for several weeks. While on crustacean death row it does not eat so although looking big and mean on the carapace, it is getting thinner and thinner inside. If your fishmonger sells you a lobster that turns out when cooked to have very little meat in it then it has been held in a tank for too long and you are entitled to be cross.
Big lobsters are called 'breakers', those which have lost claws or legs, ‘cripples’. Not PC at all. Victor Hugo, served a lobster with only one claw, demanded of the waiter why it was so disfigured. The waiter said it had come off worst in a fight in the holding tank. Take it away and bring me the victor,' quipped Victor.
And what of cooking your lobster? Opinions vary as to the most humane form of despatch. Should you put it in cold water and bring it to the boil, when the lobster is supposed to go out painlessly? (The logic of this escapes me.) Or, stab a point through its spinal cord? Or inject it with morphine? I have considered all the options and discussed crustacean capital punishment with a number of wise lobsters. Their refusal to articulate a preference confirms my view that the best method is to drop them into a lot of fast-boiling heavily salted water and put the lid on quickly while whistling the Marseillaise to cover up any shrieking.
Lobster is one of the most delicious natural foods that needs the minimum of adornment I eschew lobster thermidor and all such abominations. If ever something should be kept simple, this is it.
Put a large pan of water to heat salting heavily (it should be about as salty as the North Sea but not as salty as the Dead Sea). Say good-bye to your lobsters, checking that the rubber bands round their claws are tight so they cannot demonstrate their resentment on the tumbrel en route to Madame Pot.
When the water is bubbling briskly, put the lobsters in and boil for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave to cool in the cooking liquid for a further 15 minutes.
Remove the lobsters from the water using tongs. Snip off the rubber bands and put each lobster on a chopping board with the head towards you. With the tip of a heavy knife, push straight down at the point behind the eyes where there is a little cross and then cut towards you, halving the head. Turn the lobster the other way and bisect the tail. Remove the stomach bag from the head section. This is the only part that is not edible. Crack larger claws using the back of a large cleaver.
Serve while still warm, with drawn butter (melted butter into which a little hot water has been mixed), Beurre Blanc or extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and some Home-dried Tomatoes; or leave to get cold and eat with Mayonnaise, cold new potatoes and a green salad.
© 1993 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.