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Lobster: Selection and Cooking Basics

Selecting and cooking a lobster need not be an overwhelming task with these basic tips and techniques

It is easy these days to find lobster in just about any part of the world, regardless of season.

Although we would all love to have access to a fresh catch down at the wharf, most of us resort to eating lobster at restaurants or picking out our lobsters at a specialty shop. We even see lobsters swimming in circular tanks at the local big-box centers. It is also easy to order lobster on-line. Make sure the company you deal with is reputable.

Lobster selection rules are very simple. The lobster has to be active. It should have a firm shell.

Some experts say that any lobster between 1 ½ pounds and 2 pounds will have the sweetest meat. You may want to gauge the lobster size on the size of pots you own and the number of lobsters you are preparing.

Lobster cooking rules are simple, too. The lobster still has to be alive when you put it the pot. It should be cooked on the same day it is purchased; the sooner the better. However, if you insist on tempting fate, place it in the refrigerator and cover it with wet towels. No water (fresh water, get it?) and do not set the lobster in ice.

You'll find many recipes available for lobster that go far beyond boiling and steaming, but if you are simply craving an old-fashioned New England lobster boil, grab some potatoes, corn, tomatoes, and plenty of butter - you'll be set. If you're just craving lobster, all you need is some wonderful warmed butter and a few lemons.

You'll need a large pot or two, also, especially if you plan to boil the potatoes and corn.

Steaming takes a little longer and boiling. The only caveat with either method is to not overcook as the meat will turn into a toughened rubbery product. A cooked lobster will turn red and the meat will be white. The front antenna can be removed without tugging.

For boiling, you'll want to have enough water to completely submerge the lobster. Add a little salt to the water. If cooking more than one, make sure there is plenty of room in the pot. Bring the water to a boil. Add the lobster, head-first and with the bottom side facing away from you, in case the crustacean decides to give a last flick of its tail.

Return the water to a boil and cover. Begin your cooking countdown now. The first pound should take about 10 minutes. Add another five minutes for a 1 ½-pounder and no more than 19 minutes for a 2-pounder.

For steaming, you'll need water in the bottom of the pot and a steamer basket. Leave enough room for steam to surround each lobster. You can salt the water if you wish. Put the lobster in and cover the pot. Do make sure the water is deep enough to not boil dry. A 1 1/4-pound lobster should be ready after about 14 minutes. For each additional ½ pound, add 1 ½ minutes to the cooking time.

Remember that cooking times will vary according to size of the lobster and to the whims of your cooking element.

We'll assume you already know how to eat a lobster and have all the necessary accessories. If you're cooking for the first time, you might want to cook for just one or two people.

One last thing - if you're concerned about the lobster's feelings; don't be. They don't have a spine and experts will tell you they have no pain centers. If, however, your own pain center is feeling elevated at the thought of dropping a live being into boiling water, here's what to do: place the lobster in the freezer for about 5-10 minutes before cauldron time. The lobster will be numb and won't feel a thing. We promise.

Now, get out the butter and happy eating!

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