Learning how to cook lobster is like learning how to ride a bike, once you know, you’ll never forget!
First you start with assembling the very succinct list of necessary ingredients and equipment. I always say, “The shorter the list the more critical the quality of each ingredient becomes.” I actually don’t say that very often, if ever, but trust me, I’m gonna start. And who knows, maybe it will become “a thing” some day and I’ll hear someone use it when I’m eavesdropping on a random conversation. But I digress.
I recently learned how to cook lobster on a trip to the quiet and uber-upscale Town of Wellfleet. And for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Wellfleet; it’s a quiet little seasonal getaway along Route 6 (the Cape Highway). It’s just past Eastham, and before Truro; where the forearm’s brachioradialis (wrist flexors) would be. On a teenage male, or any aged male for that matter, it’s called a, “masturbation muscle.”
The “Forearm of Massachusetts,” as I find it’s easiest to explain is one of my new favorite vacation spots. Sure the fresh water lakes and ponds are a wonderful relief from the hot humid mosquito-infested air that leaves you feeling sticky the instance you get out of the shower, and doesn’t let up until you shower for the second or third time in a day. Which means at some point on the trip, an uncomfortable rash will inevitably develop somewhere around your crotch thanks to the chafing and lack of effective insect repellants with good SPF in the current marketplace.
Sure it’s a lot of fun to rent bikes and take casual low-impact strolls from one quant sea-village-of-a-town to the next, only stopping for views of the lush foliage and crushed oyster shell covered landscapes and 95% fat-free, 300% sugar-retained, ice cream from Arnold’s.
And there are those wonderful hikes along the foggy overcast coastlines dotted with historic decommissioned lighthouses along the way.
You can go wine tasting in Truro or spend the day shopping in Province Town, but none of these quintessential Cape Cod activities mean a lick, if it weren’t for the fact that they fall between memorable meals of the freshest lobster and clarified butter you’ve ever had.
It was about a two-hour drive from Wellesley, where we’d just been for a wedding all weekend. Jonathan’s lesbian cousin was marrying a non-Jew (it’s okay, she’s lovely), making the female festivity our second labiatic-wedding of the month. Not only did they seamlessly weave their respective faiths together into one special ceremony (one of them knits by the way), but it was especially special celebrating their union with a heightened sense of anticipation for the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA and California’s controversial Prop 8.
“No updates on Twitter,” I said, sliding my phone back into my pants pocket. “Nothing on Rachel Maddow’s or Anderson Cooper’s feeds.” Which I figured was a pretty good place to be keeping an eye out for any news that was about to break.
Jonathan, his parents, sister, sister’s boyfriend, and I had just loaded ourselves into two cars to get a few short walks through downtown Wellfleet in before the sun set and the mosquito assault continued.
We’d turned a corner onto a cute residential side street, and before we knew it, we’d happened upon The Boathouse Fish Market on Holbrook Avenue. At first it felt like we’d found the fishing boat graveyard. Nearly 50 boats, big and small, laid abandoned, stranded on land, tilted on stands, covered in tarps, and in need of some major TLC. Scattered about the yard of thick gray rocks and small gravel were mounds of water buoys, cracked and faded from the elements, and piles of rusted anchors, some too large for two men to carry.
Then we noticed a little gift shop, where they sold all this nautical crap, everything made of seashells, and beach sand. Nearly hidden amongst all the sparkly mermaid shaped housewares, and silver starfish-shaped photo frames, I found a rack of Frank & Funny greeting cards, which happen to be some of the funniest cards I’ve read in a long time. They were so funny, that while I was reading them, I paid no mind to how uncomfortable I was in my thick cotton polo shirt and the fact that I had sweat marks developing under my breasts from all the humidity…that, and after reading a few, I tinkled a little from laughing so hard. One read, “They say a great way to lose weight is to eat naked in front of a mirror,” and then on the inside it continues to read, “That doesn’t work, by the way, and, consequently, I’m no longer welcome at Target.” Each card is written by a comedian or inspired by a comedian’s joke. Genius!
Once the initial shock of what it cost to buy ten greeting cards these days in a Wellfleet tchotchke shop– especially without even the slightest hint of a price break if I bought a few more (I know, so Jewish of me)– I grabbed my bag of satirical stationary and walked into the cool refrigerated room with the live lobsters.
The tanks were filled with lobsters big and small, all of which were only $8 per pound, according to the dry erase board behind the cash register. They were so much cheaper than what it would cost to order in a restaurant back home in San Francisco, that I thought of shipping some on ice back to the Bay.
“How many?” the middle-aged woman, with the strong Boston accent (Southie maybe?) asked, as she came in from behind two swinging doors. Based on her intolerance, I figured she was probably the wife of a lobster fisherman, who hates that her husband drinks beer and spends weeks at a time on boats with his buddies, while she has to shuck, clean, and peel shellfish all day for tourists like us. Her deep breaths and the sweat dripping from her brow only meant she’d been running around in back. We didn’t really feel like customers at that point. More like interruptions to whatever physical labor she needed to get back. “What….can…. I get you?” she asked with a sigh and a quivering lip, like a pit-bull about to attack. While she waited for an answer from me, her index finger, with the speed of scorpion stinger, darted to her face to catch her smudged gray 1983 plastic-framed glasses from slipping off her nose completely. She reeked of fish and seafood, and had bits and pieces of some sea creature smeared across her purple t-shirt.
I told her we needed six single-portion lobsters and were planning on steaming that night. While she started pulling lobsters from the tank I asked her a series of questions and this is how it went.
“How do you know which ones to pick?” I asked.
“You do this for 40 years and you know approximately what a one and a quarter pound lobster looks like.” She said, seemingly insulted, as if I was questioning her capabilities.
“Is there any difference in taste between the older larger lobsters and the smaller younger ones?” I asked.
“You sure do ask a lot of questions,” she said.
“I’m sorry, but that’s how I learn.” I said, trying to defend myself and to let her know that I wasn’t trying to be antagonistic; or at least not on purpose.
“Oh no, don’t worry about it.” She said, “I think it’s great! And nope, not a difference at all in flavor between the big’uns and the lil’uns. It all depends on how you cook them.”
“So what is the difference between the big and small ones?” I asked.
“They grow about a pound to a pound and a half every seven years,” she said, “so age is the difference.”
I noticed a large one in the tank and asked her how big she thought it was. Fearless after all these years, with the scars and scrapes on her hands and arms to prove it, she pulled the behemoth of a live lobster out of the tank and threw it in the hanging scale.
“She’s about nine pounds.” She said, noticing the speed at which I was trying to do the math in my head. “That means she’s at least 60 years old.”
I stared at it flailing its two-pound restraint-reinforced claws left and right. It flapped his tail back and forth in what seemed like an effort to dive back into the cold salty water with his rust and seaweed colored brothers and sisters. I couldn’t believe that lobster had been at the bottom of the ocean for so long. Think about what adventures it had seen in six decades. How did that guy avoid the net of the catchers for this long? I asked myself.
“If he’s like the grandpa lobster, do you think he tells war stories to his lobster grandchildren?” I asked, trying to make a joke, but the sales lady wasn’t interested in playing along. “I mean like my grandfather talks about being in the war, do you think he talks about what it was like during the BP oil spill or what it was like to consult on the film Finding Nemo?”
At that, the clerk began to laugh, and then I felt comfortable asking her how to cook lobster, and this is what she told us.
“You’re gonna steam them for 22-25 minutes, and don’t peak!” That’s when she pointed at me, assuming that I, of the entire group, would be the one who would impatiently let’s the steam out before they were ready. And she was right by the way. “Fill the pot with some salt water, and take them out when they’re red all over.”
How to Cook Lobster with Grilled Corn on the Cob
- 6 1.25-1.50 lbs live New England Lobster
- ¼ cup of kosher salt
- 1 stick of unsalted butter
- 3 tblsp olive oil
- 6 ears of fresh sweet white or yellow corn
- Salt & pepper to taste
- A lobster pot & lid (any large pot and lid will do)
- small shellfish forks
- shellfish crackers (tool used for cracking shells)
Get your grill or BBQ going on high heat. Shuck the corn and get rid of the silky threads and husks. Rub the olive oil all over the corn and season with salt and pepper. Place them on the grill and cook them for about 15-20 minutes on medium heat, rotating them around so they don’t get burned and blackened too much in any one spot.
Take them off the heat when the kernels have started to shrink and some parts of the corn are charring a little. Set them aside and lightly tent them with foil.
Fill a lobster pot with three inches of cold water and add the salt. Bring the water to a heavy/rolling boil and then add the live lobsters, with their claws still banded, one at a time, and cover the pot with it’s lid. Steam the lobsters in the pot for 22-25 minutes, making sure not to peak, even if just once, during the cooking time. Once you have the lid on the lobster pot, turn the heat down to medium or medium-high and wait.
While the lobsters are scrambling to break free and clawing for the top of the pot (I’m not kidding either), melt the stick of butter in a small saucepan on low heat. Once the butter is melted and the milk solids have foamed and floated to the surface you can take the butter off the heat. Either remove the milk solids with a spoon or by pouring the butter through a sieve lined with fine mesh cloth. The butter should be clear and warm. If it chills and stiffens for too long before the lobsters are ready to eat, you can always warm the butter up in the microwave for a few seconds.
When the timer for the lobsters goes off, carefully remove the hot lobsters from the pot and place them on a cutting board or rimmed baking sheet.
Cut the rubber bands around their claws, and serve the lobsters warm, cold or at room temperature with crackers, lots of napkins, and the shellfish fork.
If the lobster is fresh, you can eat it plain, but I like to drown each bite in that clarified butter! We served our lobster with the grilled corn, and a simple acidic salad.
- You’re not a freak if you don’t have a lobster pot; it most likely means you’re just not a native Massachusettsian (wow! Try to say that four times fast). So just make sure you’re buying the right amount of fresh lobster for the size pot/s you have at home. You only want the lobster pile to come as high as a third or half the height of the pot from the top. Otherwise, they will crawl out!
- If you don’t like corn on the cob, you can still grill them as mentioned above, and just cut them off the cob before serving them. The charbroiled bits are really good with the rich creamy lobster meat, so I suggest grilling the corn, but you can certainly cook it in the oven or microwave if needed.