A Lobster Treatise
A few nights ago I killed a lobster...a lot of lobsters, actually. Ten dozen to be exact. I didn't carry out this gruesome task alone. Steve, a friend and fellow culinarian helped me. I'm not bragging about this; it had to be done. It's part of my work. It's not that I enjoyed doing it either, but I have to admit that I've become somewhat desensitized. There is something very primitive in killing in order to feed people.
It's easy to forget that, unless you're vegetarian, something must die for you to eat. Professional cooks are less removed from this than the layperson, but still it's easy to forget. But not when you're doing the killing. Many are in denial of this. Co-workers watched in horror as Steve and I plunged lobsters into huge pots, while they flipped and flopped in revolt of the consuming heat. People muttered that we were cruel, but they still ate their sausage and chicken fingers for employee meal. Boiling lobsters seems far less gruesome than slaughtering a pig or chicken.
I've read that lobsters have such primitive nervous systems they are incapable of feeling pain. But even with this knowledge it doesn't make the slaughter any easier, at least not for me. I've also read that splitting its head and face in half with a sharp knife is a more humane demise. Supposedly, if done correctly the blade almost immediately severs its brain, thus killing it quickly, more quickly than hot water. I have used both of these methods, and while I find the splitting method more gruesome, I do believe it more humane. But still neither is easy for me. If I personally were given only those two choices for my own finish I'm not sure which I would choose. Both are hideous.
Before I began dropping them I did as I've done since the first time I killed a lobster many years ago. I gave a moment of silence, I quietly asked God for forgiveness, and then apologized to the first victim as I held it in my hand. And as I held it, looking into its beady eyes, I wondered aloud why I didn't just eat vegetables. Then I dropped it in a pot, then another, and another after that. Steve did the same. Soon we were dropping them a half-dozen at a time.
I'm not sure if lobsters do feel pain-I truly hope they don't-but one thing's for sure: they don't scream. That's a fallacy. After cooking hundreds throughout my career I've never heard one scream, or make any sound for that matter. I've asked other chefs and none has ever heard a lobster scream.
The guests at the banquet enjoyed their meal, and not surprisingly, the same co-workers who only hours before thought we were cruel, picking and nibbled at the lobsters now that they were dead and cut up. I still enjoy eating lobster, but couldn't that night.
Lobster is a delicious food and is considered pure luxury by many, and is in fact healthy and low fat. Unfortunately for them, they really do taste better when cooked live. If you're going to do this, here's few pointers. This is to help both you and the lobster. If boiling, make sure that the pot is at a full rolling boil, and that it has a tight fitting lid (this isn't to keep it from jumping out; it's to keep heat in). The pot should be large enough to easily accommodate the lobster. A large amount of boiling water will stay boiling and do the deed rather quickly.
If you're going to split the lobster live you may require another person present for emotional support (some recipes require this method). Begin by placing the lobster on a cutting board. If you are right-handed have it facing right, if you are left-handed do otherwise. Locate the markings on the top of it's shell near its head that makes a sort of cross. Hold the knife vertically and place the tip of the blade (which should be heavy and sharp) at the cross, the blade should face its face. With one fell motion force the knife down until it hits the cutting board and at the same time bring the blade down horizontally. Quickly reverse the knife and cut the back half down the middle, severing it in two (don't be shocked to see that it continues to move). It's ready to grill at this point. To further prepare it for sautéing, cut off the claws and legs and crack them with the back of the knife, and then cut the tail portions from the body.
For more information, both for and against cooking live lobsters, see the links below. And if you do decide to cook them thus, don't forget to apologize first.
Maine Lobster Promotion Council
The Lobster Institute
The Society For Ethical Treatment of Lobsters
Lobster à l'Américaine
Yield: 4 servings
2 lobsters, 1 pound 12 ounces each
4 ounces butter, divided
3 tablespoons flour
2 shallots, peeled and minced
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
½ cup brandy
1 cup white wine
1 cup fish stock or clam juice
2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
salt and pepper
Prepare the lobster for sautéing. Heat 2 ounces of butter over medium-high heat in a heavy skillet. When the butter bubbles add the lobster. Sauté it for a minute or two. Add the flour, shallot, and garlic; sauté for another minute. Remove the pan from the heat and add the brandy. Return the pan to the stove and flambé; cook it until the flame burns out. Add the wine and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the fish stock and tomatoes. Cook it until it reduces by half and thickens slightly. Arrange the lobster on a warmed platter while keeping the sauce simmering. Season the sauce with a little salt and pepper, and then swirl in the remaining two ounces of butter. Pour a portion of the sauce over the lobster. Serve remaining sauce on the side.