Lobster. It’s a creature synonymous with fine dining. Few of us dare to embrace the challenge in our home kitchens, however. But why not? Cooking lobster is not actually as intimidating as it might appear.
Boiling lobster is generally considered the most straightforward method, if not necessarily the best way to go. Of course, that’s a matter of opinion, but boiling lobster is not just the quickest way to cook it. It also makes the meat a little easier to remove from its shell, which is particularly useful for something that’s notoriously messy to eat.
Steaming, on the other hand, is a gentler cooking process. The result of this is more tender meat and better retention of the lobster’s natural flavours. You’ll need to cook it for longer than you would by boiling it, but steaming also makes it much more difficult to overcook your lobster.
Note that the following guide is on how to cook live lobster. Like most seafood, lobster should always be cooked alive. This is because the types of bacteria a lobster contains can multiply very quickly upon its death. Cooking the lobster alive stops this from happening, ensuring that the bacteria that does exist is easily destroyed, thus protecting you from a nasty bout of food poisoning.
Scientists aren’t certain whether or not lobsters actually feel pain while being cooked. Nevertheless, if cooking live lobster doesn’t sit right with you, the good news is that there is a more humane way to go. By putting the lobster in your freezer for 10–20 minutes, it will fall asleep first. Just be sure to transfer it from the freezer to the pot as quickly as possible.
How to boil lobster: All the steps
Step one: Weigh your lobsters
How long to cook a lobster for depends on its weight. Before cooking, it’s essential you know how much each lobster weighs. You should be able to get this information from the fishmonger and skip this step at home. If you didn’t think to ask, you’ll need a sizeable set of kitchen scales.
Step two: Choose the right pot
Make sure the pot you use is large enough to fit all of your lobsters in comfortably. Whether you’re cooking just the one lobster or several, they’ll need plenty of space to cook properly. Never crowd the pot.
Step three: Prepare your water
If you’ve ever had lobster on the coast, you may have heard people there swear by sea water as the only liquid worthy of boiling lobster in. Doing this preserves the lobster’s characteristic marinal flavour. However, as well as being too intense a taste for some, it’s very possible that you don’t have easy access to litres of nearby seawater.
Some people also like to use a stock (it’s very easy to make stock from your leftover lobster shells for next time), but simply salting your water is the usual way to go. Roughly one tablespoon per litre should do the trick.
Make sure there’s enough water in the pot to fully submerge all your lobsters, then bring it to a rolling boil over the hob.
Step four: Timing is everything
Now you’ll be glad you weighed your lobsters in step one. Here’s how long to boil lobster based on their weight:
1 lb (450g) = 8 minutes
1 ¼ lbs (565g) = 9–10 minutes
1 ½ lbs (680g) = 11–12 minutes
1 ¾ lbs (790g) = 12–13 minutes
2 lbs (900g) = 15 minutes
2 ½ lbs (1.1kg) = 20 minutes
3 lbs (1.35 kg) = 25 minutes
5 lbs (2.25 kg) = 35–40 minutes
Note that these times apply to the individual weight of each lobster you’re cooking, not the combined weight of multiple lobsters.
The shell of a cooked lobster will turn from its original black or brown to bright red. While this is a decent indicator that the lobster is ready to eat, always ensure that the meat itself is white rather than translucent.
Step five: Serve correctly
Once cooked, let the lobster rest for 5 minutes. This isn’t just to cool them down, but to allow the meat to absorb any excess moisture.
While you do so, prepare some melted butter for dipping and a bowl for discarded shells. You’ll also need a tool for breaking into the lobster shell. While actual lobster cracking utensils do exist, a simple nutcracker will suffice.
Cooking lobster: How to steam it
To steam lobster, the steps are very similar to those for boiling above. The first difference is that you’ll only be filling your pot with a couple of inches of water and placing a steaming rack inside to keep the lobsters above the liquid. You won’t need to salt the water, but you will need to cover the pot while the lobsters are cooking. It’s also advisable to occasionally move the lobsters with a pair of tongs in order to cook them evenly.
Of course, the cooking times will also be different. Here’s how long to steam lobster based on their weight:
Lobster meat lends itself to a variety of different recipes. A simple lobster roll is synonymous with New England and the seafronts of Maine, Massachusetts and Connecticut, but has recently also been given a gourmet twist. Looking for something a bit more refined? Use the succulent lobster flesh as a key component in this elegant looking beetroot appetiser that is as pretty as a picture. Or combine your seafood with even more vegetables in this delicate lobster salad. Last but not least, chef Alain Alders shares an exclusive recipe for his Mezzi Paccheri di Gragnano pasta made with lobster and basil.