How to Cook lobster Like a Pro, Care of Ben Conniff of Luke’s Lobster

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Nothing announces the arrival of summer on the East Coast like feasting on a sweet, meaty lobster.  While many restaurants are more than able to satisfy your craving, cooking lobsters at home is the ideal way to step- up your bbq routine and impress your hungry friends.

We went to the definitive lobster expert, Luke’s Lobster President Ben Conniff, to guide us through every step of preparing lobsters at home, from selecting the perfect size lobster,  different cooking techniques, and of course some hints about how to make a lobster roll, a subject he knows a thing or two about.

Q: Sustainability is very important to Luke’s- can you offer any tips for responsibly buying lobsters?

A: For lobster, the first question should always be “where is it from?” If your fish market can’t tell you the lobster’s origin, you’re in the wrong place. Maine is the pinnacle of sustainability, but Canada’s regulations have also caught up, so you can feel good about either.  Know that the more specific the fishmonger is about the source, the more likely they are committed to sustainable fisheries; also, I would avoid any lobsters south of Maine if you are concerned about sustainability.

Q: How does one decide how many lobsters (of what size) for each person?

A: The tenderest and tastiest lobsters are 1 1/4-1 1/2 pounders; in general, each person will eat one, especially when accompanied by some sides like potato salad, slaw, and corn. (Have I eaten four in a sitting? Yes…)

Q: Tell us your thoughts regrading all of the different cooking methods: steaming vs boiling, vs grilling, etc.

A: If I’m cooking a whole lobster, I prefer it steamed; I find that some of the flavor leaches out into the water when you boil, while steaming tends to preserve more of that goodness within the shell. The greatest way to prepare lobster is in separate pieces: steam the knuckles and claws for about five minutes so they are cooked through but still tender, then split the tail in half and throw it on a charcoal grill, about 4 minutes,shell side down until the meat is opaque, and then another two minutes meat side down until grill marks develop. Boil the body with onions, carrots and celery for an hour or so, strain, and use the broth for soups, sauces, risotto and more.

Q:  Some people might be squeamish about the act of killing the lobster, but in order to cook the lobster in pieces it is a necessary part of the process. What are your tips for the best way to commit lobster-cide?

A: It’s easiest to kill the lobster prior to taking it apart, rather than disassembling it live. We recommend putting the lobster in the freezer for 15 minutes before killing–this slows its metabolism and will reduce the reflexive contractions when it’s killed. Then drive the point of a chef’s knife through the middle of the lobster’s shell right behind its eyes. This will quickly kill the animal.Disassemble the lobster by pulling each arm off at the point where the knuckle meets the main body. Then remove the tail by holding it in one hand and the main body in the other hand, then twisting the tail clockwise until it breaks free of the body. The knuckles and claws are ready to steam as-is, the tail should be sliced down the middle as described elsewhere for grilling, broiling, or pan-searing.If you’d prefer to kill the lobster by steaming, you can do so, effectively blanching the meat. Steam the lobster for 2-3 minutes, then take it out of the pot, disassemble, and proceed as otherwise directed, subtracting your blanching time from the overall cook time.

Picnic perfect
Picnic perfect

Q: Is there a difference in taste between  large and small lobsters?

A: Absolutely. The 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 pounders are the most tender and sweet; the meat toughens ever so slightly as the lobsters grow beyond that size.

Q: How can you tell when the lobsters are cooked to the proper level of doneness?

A: When I cook a whole lobster, I like to see a bright red shell, and if I tug at the lobster’s antennae it should pop off pretty easily; if it clings stubbornly. it probably needs another minute or two.

Q: What is the primary difference between prepping lobsters commercially and cooking them at home?

A: At our (Luke’s) seafood company, lobster cooking is an absolute science; we are committed to giving every bite in every lobster roll a consistently perfect sweetness and tender texture. We not only cook every part of the lobster separately, we also grade each part by size, for instance since bigger claws cook for longer than smaller claws. Also, our picking team can probably pull all of the meat out of a dozen lobsters in the time it takes for you to say “hand me that lobster cracker.” But we’ve built a business around perfection- if you hold yourself to that standard at home you’ll take all of the fun out of the experience; take these tips for what they are worth, but if you spend more time trying to perfect your cooking than you do eating with your family and friends, you are doing it wrong!

Q: What about equipment- can a home cook make lobster without a lobster pot?

A: All that you need is a pot that can boil an inch of salt water, fits your lobster inside, and has a lid to hold in the steam. Anything that meets these qualifications is a lobster pot in my book.

Q: What are your favorite things to do with any lobster leftovers?

A: Lobster rolls are obviously one, but also lobster frittata for breakfast the next day, lobster gnocchi, and lobster risotto. You can find these recipes and a bunch more in our cookbook, Real Maine Foodwhich gives a great lobster primer as well as a breakdown of every other farmed, fished, and foraged in Maine.

This can be your party...
This could be your party…

Q: Not to steal any secrets, but what tips can you give a home cook in regards to making a lobster roll?

A: Keep it simple! If you cook the lobster right, you should not need to add anything to it, just butter and griddle a split top bun, pile your lobster in, and add your choice of mayo, lemon butter, and herbs, but never too much of any of these things, to allow the lobster to shine.

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  1. Well done ladies! Informative.. but one lobster a person.. not in our house.. also I don’t think I can execute the lobster in the recommended way… Great info..Here is to a great lobster season ( Maine ones!)