Home Cooking 118

Dispatching live lobsters?

carswell | May 28, 200809:57 AM

No denying it: many lobster dishes are best made with the raw meat from a freshly killed lobster.

Problem is, killing them is always something of a traumatic experience. Yes, they're just big bugs. Yes, their nervous systems are primitive and decentralized compared with ours. Yes, from the lobster's viewpoint there's not much difference between being chopped up live and being dropped into a pot of boiling water. Still, whenever I've done it, I've felt (to paraphrase Alice B. Toklas) like I need to sit down and have a smoke while waiting for the police to arrive and haul me off to the slammer.

And even when I've set my squeamishness aside and done the dastardly deed, it doesn't always work as advertised. Insert the knife behind the head to quickly deliver the coup de grâce? Last time I tried, far from dropping dead the beast did an "et tu, Brute" number, rearing up in outrage and writhing in pain. A second stab didn't help. I covered her with a wok lid, set a pot of water to boil and, plams sweating, retired to the office, a retreat punctuated by the sound of claws banging against metal. Other times, the stab behind the head seemed to work... until I started splitting the corpses, that is. Is there anything more Twilight Zone than a deceased half lobster wildly waving its flippers for five minutes after you've split it? (See "decentralized nervous system" above.)

Delicious, sweet, fresh, local Gaspé lobsters are in season. A serious foodie friend has invited me over for a lobster feast on Saturday. Most of the dishes we're considering -- stuffed with tarragon butter and roasted, stir-fried with ginger and garlic, roasted and served with a vin jaune and walnut oil sauce -- call for raw meat from freshly killed lobsters.

What to do? Could we stick them in the freezer for 30 minutes or so to numb them? Should we wimp out and try one of Keller's tricks and parboil them (place in a pot, pour boiling water over, let sit for two minutes)? Or if we screw up our courage and butcher them live, is there any surefire way of sparing them and us the agony?

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