Four-Minute Lobster with a Sauce Made from its Coral

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By James Peterson

Published 1991

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While the French and other cultures have devised elaborate and delicious methods for cooking lobsters, one of the simplest remains the best: boiling. While boiling often results in dry, cottony flesh, this is usually due to overcooking. Most books recommend about 20 minutes, but here a 2-pound lobster is cooked for 4 minutes, just long enough to cook the flesh and leave it moist and delicate. There is, however, one result of this process that some consider a curse and others a blessing: the coral inside female lobsters remains raw and dark green—almost black—from the relatively low internal temperature. While some cooks might be tempted to discard the coral, keep in mind that it’s the tastiest part of the lobster. It also lends itself to making an impeccable lobster sauce. You’re also likely to encounter tomalley inside the lobsters—pale, green, amorphous—which is delicious and can also be used in the sauce, although it can dampen the color somewhat. If color is of extreme importance, leave the tomalley out.

Beurre blanc and hollandaise work especially well as a base sauce for incorporating the coral, but the coral can also be worked into any number of seafood-based sauces such as veloutés, and even hot mayonnaise emulsions.


live lobsters, 2 lb (1 kg) each, at least 2 female 4 4
cognac or wine vinegar 4 drops 4 drops
beurre blanc, hollandaise, or other base sauce cups 375 ml
salt and pepper to taste to taste


  1. Bring a large pot of water (enough to submerge all the lobsters) to a hard boil. Submerge the lobsters and boil for 4 minutes. (Count from the moment you add the lobsters to the hot water.) Drain in a colander. (A)

    Cover the lobsters loosely with a dry towel and let them rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

  2. Add the Cognac or wine vinegar to a bowl and set a strainer over the bowl. Twist open the female lobsters (B)

    and gently tug on the coral hanging out of the tail and from the opening in the head where the tail joins. (C)

    (Whether to leave the tomalley in the lobster or to use it in the sauce is up to you. It will add flavor to the sauce but may discolor it.) Work the coral through the strainer into the bowl. If you’re serving the lobster later (cold or reheated sous vide), keep the coral, covered with plastic wrap, on a bowl of ice. The coral is extremely perishable and shouldn’t be held for more than 6 hours.

  3. Warm the base sauce gently. Slowly whisk about half the base sauce into the coral (D),

    then return the mixture to the remaining base sauce, off the heat. Whisk the sauce until it turns from a rather sullen green to bright orange. (E)

    If it doesn’t turn orange, heat the sauce gently (remember that coral consists of eggs, which will curdle as the sauce approaches a boil), while whisking, until the color changes. The coral will also thicken the sauce (in the manner of egg yolks), so it may need to be thinned with more base sauce, cream, stock, or water. Season with salt and pepper and serve the sauce with the lobsters, either on the plate or on the side.