Lobster is synonymous with summer in our family. Growing up in Long Island and Connecticut, and with summers spent in New Hampshire, meant an abundant supply of fresh lobsters was always available.
Though I've been eating lobster since I can remember, these crustaceans can be intimidating to newcomers.
Hard-shell lobsters are favored by many foodies. The hard shell means there is more meat in the lobster because it has almost outgrown this shell and will shed it soon for a softer shell.
However, soft shells are easier to handle and don't require crackers to access the meat. I like the abundance of meat in the hard shells, but the meal can be a slow process and some say soft shells have sweeter meat.
Lobsters usually are sold by the pound, with the larger sizes being more expensive. The most common sizes are 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 pounds. Check local markets for sales, particularly around holiday weekends. Purchase your catch the same day you plan to eat it. Lobsters should be alive and moving, with the front claws banded so you don't get pinched.
There are several ways to cook a lobster, but the most common is boiling. Keep lobsters refrigerated until the water is ready. Bring a large pot about one-third full of water to a boil (some people add salt, but I find the lobster salty enough on its own). Submerge lobsters head first in the water and put on the top so they steam.
Boil for 12 - 15 minutes for up to 1 1/2 pounds. Lobsters will be bright red, and the small legs will detach easily when done. Drain the lobsters, and let them cool slightly on a platter. The shells will be very hot to the touch.
Other methods include grilling, steaming and baked. If all this sounds too involved, ask your supermarket or fish market to cook the lobsters for you. Many will do this for a nominal fee or free in some cases.
First, make sure you have the right equipment. Every lobster feast needs a few things: crackers, lobster forks or bamboo skewers, napkins, melted butter, lemon and a body bowl.
The body bowl, as we so aptly named it, is any pot or large bowl where you can toss your shells and drain your lobster. The crackers and fork or picks are used to break hard shell lobsters and poke or pull out the meat. And the warm butter and lemon flavor the delicate meat.
Next, grab the lobster with one hand on the body and the other on the tail and twist the two apart. Drain any water over the bowl. Break off the arms with the claws and drain again. Now you can get to work without your plate overflowing with salty water.
Claws are easily pulled apart, but you may need the crackers to break the thick shell on the larger claw. Pull out the meat, dip in butter and enjoy. Use the same tools on the arms.
The tail is trickier. Squeeze the tail lengthwise until the back shell cracks. Then use your thumbs to bend the shell back in the other direction. This should loosen the meat so you can use a fork or skewer to ease the meat out in one piece.
The body is for the die-hard lobster fans. The green insides are known as tomalley, and the red is in some females and is the roe. Both are edible and are thought of as a delicacy by some (not by me).
The small legs can be broken and sucked on to get the small pieces of meat. And there is some meat in the body itself if you persevere. I usually finish my lobster a full 15 minutes before my husband, who delves into the innards, extracting every flake of meat.
For those who want to watch a video on how to take apart and eat your lobster, try this one.
Eating lobster is a messy but delicious endeavor. To minimize mess and leftover odor, spread your picnic table with newspapers or brown butcher paper, get a pile of napkins and dig in. With a dip in butter and a squirt of lemon, summer never tasted so good.