If you are squeamish at all then cooking Lobster is just not for you, it is an ongoing argument with some pretty strange solutions.
The main problem is that Shellfish of any kind have a tendancy to go off very quickly and, olafactorily speaking, dramatically! With this in mind most books will advise that shellfish are purchased / cooked while still alive.
In the case of fairly inanimate shellfish such as mussels, cockles, clams and the like this is no real hardship for the cook, (and no-one can be sure of how the shellfish feel about this!) however when we get into the realms of large, extremely animate creatures like crabs and Lobsters then things begin to get more interesting.
Most cooks / chefs (author included) hold with the thoery that the Lobster and it's reletives have no complex sensations of pain, this however is in no way possible to prove conclusively and is up to the individuals conscience, it remains a fact however that there is little difference between dying quickly or slowly both have the same net effect and I would subscribe to the theory that a quick death would be preferable to any form of slow torture.
METHODS I HAVE READ There have been several methods of cooking Lobster passed to me over the years.
First, and my preferred method, is to select a pan large enough to take the whole lobster and with a tight fitting lid. Put enough water in the pan to cover the lobster and bring it to the boil. Take your Lobster, and your courage, in hand and drop it into the boiling water. Quickly place the lid on the pan and be prepared to hold it down as the Lobster tends to splash about a bit, (this is the bit that disturbs most people including me) Simmer for approx 5 min per lb of Lobster then drain and plunge into cold water to stop the cooking process. Job done!
Other methods include most parts of the above but include first attempting to kill the Lobster "humanely"
It has been suggested that standing the Lobster on its head for a few mins will stun it sufficiently to relieve any pain or distress. I would say to these people that if they are able to make a live Lobster stand on it's head then
As I have already said these creatures do not take kindly or quietly to manhandling and certainly should not allow themselves to be stood on their heads.
Another method of "Humane Killing" I have read about is to poke a needle into the Lobster's eyes and thus into it's brain to kill it. I ask you, which would you prefer?
And finally there is the, "Cut the head in half with a knife" method which is the method recommended if you require raw Lobster flesh for any dish. It is true however that, should you require raw flesh then remove the Lobster from the pot in method #1 after only 1 min at which point the Lobster will be dead and not cooked.
Today I received E.Mail from a concerned reader, Mr Sandy MacNeil, on the subject of Lobster preperation. I am including his mail here for your perusal just to ensure the "Whole Picture" is being being presented.
it takes 3 minutes (atleast - I say) for a lobster to die. Would you please consider correcting this as your page came up 9th in my search entitled "Lotster+ humane + kill" on MSN. I think the other=20 page is right, so, would you please correct this to save many shellfish=20 (lobster anyway) from being deshelled alive. On behalf of shellfish and = me. Thank You in advance. Sandy
Sandy has also offered a link within his mail to prove his theory. This link however will take you to a page advocating vegetarianism as a way of life. It is, by my page, quite obvious that I do not subscribe to such beliefs. I am still glad that my pages are the cause of such hot debate however and thank Sandy for his concerns.
Recieved yet another communication on the subject of Lobster preperation. This time from Peter Beech of the Queens Arms, Botallack. Cornwall. he says:
Like your site, I fish for Lobsters between Lands End and Cape Cornwall. I also have a pub where we sell them on the menu. When customers are worried about the Lobster being boiled alive I show them a neat little trick. Take one large live angry lobster and hold it as you describe by the head. With a pencil or the back of a small knife stroke it's head from the top, down between its eyes along the line between the spiky bits gently. Do this 6 or 7 times ( or as many more as you feel happy with) and it will quite literally go limp and go to sleep. Whether it's some form of lobster hypnosis or why it works (and who did it in the first place..) I don't know but they don't even appear to wake up when plunged into the pan!
Peter Beech Queens Arms. Botallack. Cornwall.
The method you choose will not matter too much as they can all be distressing to the sensitive individual, to the harder among you just use #1 and get it over with.
Once cooked and cooled (If serving whole do not cool) then the Lobster needs to be extracted from the shell for most dishes although as mentioned many restaurants will serve a whole Lobster in it's shell. (For a pictogram describing one method of doing this click on the link)
To remove the flesh you will need, at the very least, a medium sized hammer and a firm surface to work on. Any Chef worth his salt will be able to deal with a Lobster using a large cooks knife to split the shell however for the less proficient knife wielders among you this method is not to be recomended. A far better option is a good quality and large nut cracker or pliers, there are also some very good custom built tools for the job of lobster and crab cracking but the hammer will be most peoples first port of call. Grasp the lobster by the back of the headportion, just before it turns into the jointed tail part, and pull off any claws that remain attached, they will come off easily. Next grip the head firmly in one hand and the tail in the other and, with a twisting and backward bending movement, remove the tail. Next take the tail section in one hand with the underside facing up and using both hands, the free one cupped under the one holding the tail, squeeze firmly until the tail cracks. If the tail squeaks this is definitely a rubber toy!! :-). If you cannot master this technique then simple place the tail on it's side on the surface you have chosen to work on and push down on it with hands, rolling pin, large book anything to cause the shell to crack, in reality this is not as difficult as it may sound. Once the crack is heard then take the tail in both hands and, using the thumbs, push both of the lower edges of the shell away from each other until you can get at the large piece of tail meat within.
Other methods include the use of a kitchen scissors to cut through the belly membrane and thus gain access however the shell will still need to be parted to open fully. You may also cut completely through the Lobster length wise however as previously noted this requires a large knife and a certail degree of skill in its operation, this method also gives you two halfs of tail which may not be what you required for your chosen dish.
Next some attention has to be given to the claws to extract the lovely tender meat from them. This is where your hammer comes in useful. The method is just one of laying the claw down on the work surface and, starting from the smallest end of the claw tap gently at each segment in turn autil it cracks and is able to be removed from the meat within. Be very careful about getting splinters of shell into the bowl of meat, there is nothing more offputting that finding a lump of shell in your Lobster salad. Also remember to remove the tendons which run down the center of the claw meat, these look like semi transparent bits of plastic and are not edible.
Finally, inside the remaining head portion you will see a lot of rather messy green and some red stuff. All of this is good to eat and can be used to make sauces etc so don't throw it out, unless you are very fussy. The only bits that cannot be eaten are the stomach sac, located directly behind the mouth part and the gills or dead mans fingers which are cream coloured long frond like growths in the head, these are not poisonous but are rather unpleasant to attempt to eat, so don't. Some people prefer to remove the intestinal tract from the center of the tail meat but this can be very fiddly and time consuming to do. If you want to remove it however then split the tail from the back or top side down to the center where you will find a small dark thread like object running the length of the Lobster which can be scraped tor washed out.