Here’s what I know about lobster: my mother loves it; it’s deemed a luxury, which is reflected in cost; you have to boil the creatures alive; it’s an aphrodisiac. I’ve never bought or eaten it myself, so I only really know the first point to be true. My mother loves the stuff. If she could, she’d live on a beach eating coconuts and lobster every day; I’m not sure, however, that she’d find it as appealing if she had to fish for, and kill, them too.
Today is Mother’s Day, and like many dutiful daughters across the country, my sister and I felt it would be nice to spoil our mother with a Sunday lunch. I didn’t fish for my lobsters—I travelled to Oxford for them instead—but I did have to put them asleep in the freezer, and then plunge them head first into boiling water; an activity I don’t wish to repeat too soon.
For our lobster lunch, I turned to the doyenne of American cooking, Martha Stewart. Her site features 27 lobster recipes, each dressed up a different way. I wanted to make a classic – boiled Maine lobster, simple hearty fare. There was a small issue of timing. We collected the lobsters, along with some scallops for a starter, from an Oxford fishmongers at 4pm. An unusual destination, perhaps, but we’d been viewing a potential wedding location in the Cotswolds, and there was no way we’d make it back to town in time to find an open fishmongers, so lobster in the rucksack to London it was. I didn’t feel comfortable leaving the lobsters in the fridge overnight, so we opted to cooked them that evening.
I admit I was a bit of a girl about the whole thing. We’d been advise that the kindest way to cook lobster—if indeed a humane way exists—is to leave them in the freezer for 1 to 2 hours, numbing their senses, and then plunge them head first into a pan of boiling water. They were pretty lively after their journey to London, so the boy gently placed them in the freezer, while I looked on nervously.
Leaving them in the freezer, gave me time to make a stock for the fish to cook in. It was a basic affair: celery, carrots, a large white onion, a whole bottle of white wine, cold water, peppercorns and a bouquet garni of parsley and thyme. When the bouillon had been cooking for about 45 minutes, we took the sleeping lobsters out of the freezer and prepared to cook them. The boy dealt with the plunging; we’d unclipped their pincers, and they were beginning to stir—I shied away.
We’d read that a 500g lobster needs 10 to 12 minutes. So we cooked each one for 10 minutes in the boiling stock. They emerged, one by one, a brilliant mottled orange and red. We left them to cool, and rest overnight in the basement. The next morning, I fried them whole, in butter for one minute, and set about shedding their skin, removing the liver, and concocting a sauce.
I wanted to keep things simple, so I made a white wine, cream, shallot and parsley sauce to drizzle over the lobster, and a small salad of peashoots and tomatoes to cut through the richness of the lobster. We covered the table in newspaper for effect and practicality—the lobster juice does shoot across the table—and took my mother outside for a glass of champagne. The sun was shinning, she felt spoilt, and I thoroughly enjoyed my first taste of lobster.
Recipe, adapted from Martha Stewart
1 large Spanish onion, peeled and left whole
2 large carrots, cut into thirds
2 stalks celery, cut into thirds
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 750 ml bottle dry white wine
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
4 lobsters, about 500g each
6 lemons, halved
Place onions, carrots, and celery in a large stockpot. Make a bouquet garni: Gather thyme and parsley and tie into a bundle with kitchen string, then add to the stockpot.
Fill stockpot 2/3 full with cold water; set over high heat. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and leave to simmer for about 30 minutes.
Add white wine and peppercorns; simmer for about 15 minutes more. Return to a boil.
Depending on size of stockpot, quickly plunge your lobsters to the boiling bouillon, making sure the liquid covers all the lobsters. Allow the stock to return to a boil again, and cook lobsters for 10 to 12 minutes. Using tongs, remove lobsters, and transfer to a platter or large bowl. Repeat with remaining lobsters, working in batches if necessary.
Using kitchen scissors, trim the tip of each lobster claw; allow the liquid to drain, and discard. Cut the tail and butterfly. Serve lobsters with lemons, mayonnaise, sauce or whatever takes your fancy.