Sunday, 29 November 2009

Larry Lobster bites the dust

One of the huge benefits of living on the coast in a place like Aldeburgh (in fact, the main benefit) is having a fisherman like Dean Fryer on your doorstep selling that day's catch.  Normally, when he catches lobsters in his pots he boils them and sells them pink and ready to devour cold with, say, mayonnaise.  If you catch him early (or phone him the day before) he'll have a lobster live for you which is what you want if you want to grill or fry and benefit from a secret ingredient within. 

To kill Larry humanely you chill him down gradually in the 'fridge (with a damp cloth over him) and then when he's pretty still you put him in the freezer to send him into a coma.  A couple of hours later when he's completely still you can cut him in half. He might wriggle a bit but that's just his overdeveloped nervous system whose sensibility is in inverse proportion to the size of his brain.  It doesn't hurt.

The secret ingredient you don't really notice (or might not eat) if you buy your lobster cooked and which is ignored also by most restaurants who use live lobsters is the tomalley which is the liver (above).  It is absolutely delicious just briefly fried in butter and spread on toast but a top chef like Anton Mosimann will be using it to enrich a complicated sauce to accompany the lobster.  On cooking it goes from a beige colour to green.  It doesn't taste remotely fishy.  It's a kind of foie gras from the sea.  Or for those of you who don't eat foie gras, perhaps it's similar to calf's brains.  I must say I did feel a little like Hannibal Lecter when scooping out the wobbly organ above.

Curiously, even lobster suppliers tend to ignore this delicacy.  Once the tomalley has been removed the lobster is ready to grill.  The inedible "dead men's fingers" or gills can be taken out now though it's probably easier to do this when the lobster is cooked.  Now is the time for the cook to have a break, prewarm the grill, make some toast, open the wine, spread the fried tomalley on the toast and test the wine.  By the time this is done the grill is hot enough to place Larry cut in half under the grill with a knob of butter on each half.  He only needs about 10 minutes when he'll have gone from jet black to a beautiful orangey pink.  He doesn't need seasoning because he's naturally pretty salty.  This gives the chef the time to appreciate the wine and decide whether the temperature is correct and whether the wine needs decanting to aerate it a bit if it's a bit too young.
Larry weighing in at about 1 1/2 pounds was a bit too high for my grill so I ended up frying him.
The tail meat is normally most highly prized by fans but I actually prefer the claw which is juicier and less firm.  But for me the real treat is the shell and crunching on the crunchy bits which have slightly caught under the grill or in the frying pan.  These bits are really sweet and exotic tasting, almost like a piece of pork crackling.  The best bits are the eyes. 
If just boiling a crustacean I prefer crab because I like the brown meat which has more taste and in a crab is more plentiful (and more easily accessible) than the white.  However, a grilled, or fried, lobster (or for that matter, langoustine) is the king and the reaction of dry heat (plus butter) against shell produces an incredible, complex sweetness which begs to be tempered by the very finest white wine.  The usual choice would be Burgundy but why not young, very cold Sauternes (especially if the shellfish is accompanied by a creamy sauce flavoured with saffron)?
 In my case, I couldn't stretch to the finest Burgundy though this Mâcon Cruzilles 1999 dom Guillot Broux did its best to impersonate something grand from the Côte d'Or with its smoky, nutty nose and buttery, rich albeit crisp palate.

A perk for the greedy chef is to mop the pan with a piece of bread.  The combination of caramelised shell juice and brown butter is the stuff made of (sweet) dreams.  Just make sure you use unsalted butter, preferably French.  Salted burns too easily.  And don't throw the empty shell away..... save for stock to make bisque or risotto.


  1. Mmm... A friend recently brought round a whole boiled lobster. I'm not sure I'd have the guts to split it myself, though grilled would be great. The shell makes a wonderful bisque.

  2. It's less gruesome than gutting a high well hung pheasant or skinning a rabbit but a lot noisier!