"We should have gotten steaks because they don't have legs, they don't run around."
Annie Hall. That wonderful movie with Diane Keaton and Woody Allen is one of my all-time favorites and one of my favorite comedic and romantic scenes from that movie is when they cook lobster together for the first time. If you haven't seen the movie, you should...now!! It's one of Woody's best films and it's full of gems. Or, at least check out the lobster scene so you know what I'm talking about.
It's California spiny lobster season and a lobster monger has been selling live lobsters he caught at Santa Cruz Island for the last few months. Sadly for me, today was his last day at the farmers market; he'll be concentrating on fishing and selling direct to restaurants for the next quarter. So I decided to begin my New Year celebration one day early with a California spiny lobster. It's a challenge for me because I've never cooked lobster without my dad's help; he usually does the hard part like the actual killing...
I bought this 2-pounder early in the morning and I still had to return to the office for work. How to keep it alive until dinnertime? Luckily, I had a big bucket at the office so I kept the lobster in there with a little water. The lobster monger also gave me three snails for free to try. I forgot to ask him the exact name of the species.
Notice California spiny lobsters don't have giant claws like Maine lobsters.
Per the lobster monger's advice, I placed the lobster in the fridge for 30 minutes before cooking. I also lopped off the two long "antennas" with a cleaver. I have to admit that I was a bit nervous handling the live lobster with it's skinny legs still moving and all. I've chopped off chicken heads, duck heads and fish heads before but they were dead already.
I prefer steaming over boiling; steaming brings out more of the natural sweetness in the fresh lobster meat. I have a double boiler so it's perfect for the job. I brought the water to a boil then separately, I placed the lobster (thank god it didn't really put up a fight) onto the top half of the double boiler. I put the lid on and with a mix of anticipation and anxiety, I fitted the top half of the pot onto the bottom with the boiling water.
No, the lobster did not scream. And no, it did not kick off the lid and jump out of the pot. I did place a towel over my glass lid so I didn't have to watch its legs twitch as it was steaming.
Done! Steamed for 11 minutes. So easy!
I lifted the top part of the double boiler out of the steaming water and just let the lobster cool for about 5 minutes. Wrapped in a clean dish towel, I grabbed onto the head and used a sharp knife to separate the tail with my other hand. Then I used a pair of sturdy kitchen scissors to cut apart the softer bottom shell of the tail and I used a cleaver to hack off the legs.
The delicious results. The lobster meat was cooked just right - not overdone which would have made the meat very chewy - and it had a crisp, refreshing sweetness in every bite. A quick dip into salted drawn butter made it even more heavenly.
The tail had most of the meat but I was pleasantly surprised to find quite a bit of meat under the head. Though it took a little bit of work (and cracking), there were good small bites of sweet meat in the skinny legs too.
Again, per the lobster monger's advice, I boiled those three snails for about 10 minutes and then using a sharp knife, I hooked the meat out of the shell. The fishiness of the snail meat was too overpowering though so I ended up not serving it. My sister and I love all kinds of seafood and can deal with a lot of fishiness but this was just way beyond us.
To compliment the lobster, I also whipped up a simple pasta with some fine-chopped garlic, diced onions, fresh tomatoes and some burrata cheese.
So, I'm happy that I'm ending 2009 having successfully faced another cooking challenge. Time to think of resolutions for 2010...