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Jul 3, 2010 08:30 AM

Lobster cooking---YOUR rules of thumb

I've cooked many a lobster and I will have no problem cooking this 3 1/4 lb lobster I've got here. But whenever I refresh my memory online I am always confronted with conflicting timings and methods.
I am only interested in boiling or steaming. I'd love to see the methods and opinions of other experienced lobster cookers and lovers re: timing and choice of boiling or steaming.

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  1. Rolling boil court bouillon (1/4 salt to two gallons water, add whatever other seasonings you like, lemon or vinegar, herbs, mirepoix, white wine) completely submerge lobster, 10 minutes per lb for first lb, 3 minutes per lb thereafter, so your jumbos would cook for 16-17 minutes, counting from the time the water returns to a good boil. It's faster to cook lobsters by boiling but you have less chance of overcooking when steaming them, although timing steamed lobsters is trickier. Summer lobsters (June and July caught) have a softer shell than winter lobsters, and cook faster; the times I suggest here are based on that. I see many variations in cooking times on the web and in my cookbooks but the 10 minutes per first lb etc. is my rule of thumb for summer lobsters.

    The last thing you want to overcooked lobster. You can tell when they're done by shell color and when the two front antennae pull out easily.

    I boil at home, but like to get them steamed when out on the town.

    7 Replies
    1. re: bushwickgirl

      I agree with you that steaming is a little more technically challenging. My home experiences with it are less consistent than with boiling.
      That timing is about what I do except that I start timing when the lobster goes in and give it 13 min. for first lb. My problem is--I can't tell when the water starts boiling unless I keep the lid off but I want the lid on to get the fastest return-to-boil. So that extra 3 minutes is the compensation. Works well enough.

      I never add anything more than salt to the water. Any comments on how much any of the other additions bring to the lobster? I'm lobster-conservative but I'm open.

      1. re: JonL

        Yes, it's difficult to know when the water comes to a boil with the lid on. I leave the lid cracked a bit and listen for the boiling sound, or even set a timer for a few minutes; but it seems like you have a method for compensating.

        Using a court bouillon for boiling lobster doesn't flavor the lobster necessarily, rather it prevents the lobster from losing flavor; cooking seafood, or anything, in a well seasoned liquid is always better than straight, or even just salted, water. It's a flavor balance thing.

        It's hard to estimate seasoning amounts, I just know what's enough and I taste. If you're cooking one jumbo lobster, try 1 gallon water, 2-3 tablespoons or so of salt, a few chopped celery stalks, one rough chopped onion, a few bay leaves, a cup or so of white wine, a teaspoon of black peppercorns, a halved lemon, a few stalks of thyme, 1/2 cup vinegar, a diced carrot, a few cloves of garlic if you want, just to flavor the liquid, not overhwhelm the lobster. Simmer the court bouillon for 15-20 minutes and taste it, before bringing to to a boil and adding the lobster. It should taste "seasoned." You may need more salt.

        Let us know what you do and how it comes out.

      2. re: bushwickgirl


        By the way, did you suggest to use white vinegar to in another post for cooking lobsters?

        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          Yes, white vinegar or lemon juice, lemon being more expensive; I believe the poster I recommended white vinegar to is in Korea, where lemons are at a premium (according to my knowledge, maybe not.) Lemon brings a little different flavor profile to a court bouillon; white vinegar is the classic court bouillon acid of choice.

        2. re: bushwickgirl

          That seems like a lot to me--especially if you're talking about softer shelled lobsters AND waiting for the water to return to a boil. I follow Jasper White's timing:

          1 pound--8 minutes
          1-1/4 pounds--9 to 10 minutes
          1-1/2 pounds--11 to 12 minutes
          1-3/4 pounds--12-13 minutes
          2 pounds--15 minutes

          I start counting from the minute I put the lobsters in; I don't wait for the water to return to a boil. This timing, by the way, results in fully cooked lobster. In fact, I came to rely on this chart after discovering that James Peterson, who says to cook a 1-1/4 pound lobster not longer than 5 minutes, obviously likes his lobster not fully opaque throughout.

          1. re: JoanN

            It takes about a minute or two for the water to retun to a boil. It you estimate that Jasper is cooking a 3 1/4 lb lobster for 19-20 minutes, counting from the moment the lobster goes into the water, we are using the same cooking times.

            1. re: bushwickgirl

              You're right. It was the "10 minutes for the first pound" and "after the water returns to a boil" that threw me. Once you get up to the larger sizes, our timing is indeed quite similar.

        3. My rule of thumb is: boil gently until you see the white "stuff" come out, at that exact moment it is done. I season the water with Old Bay and maybe a little lemon. I start looking at about 15 minutes, a big lobster will take at least that long. But not much longer than a little lobster, in general. I can't be bothered with less than 2 lbs.

          7 Replies
          1. re: coll

            Old Bay is very good.

            Oh, coll, the white stuff is coagulated protein. All this lobster talk is driving me crazy hungry for one or two. Lobsters $4.99/lb in NYC this week, pretty cheap for this early in the season. What are they out where your are?

            1. re: bushwickgirl

              I know, I'm not from Maryland but I picked up the idea somewhere, and everyone always compliments the taste (I do shrimp for cocktail with it too). Someone else (in real life) just told me that it was protein too, and therefore every nanosecond more it cooks you loose something really important.

              1. re: coll

                Good stuff. Thanks for the detail, bushwickgirl. I'm going to go for a variant of your ideas combined with some Old Bay....why not? I'll taste the water before committing the lobster to it. If it seems overbearing I'll start over but I want to give this a good shot.

                1. re: JonL

                  I don't put a ton of Old Bay, just float some on the top of the water.

                  1. re: coll

                    I steam 10 minutes for small lobsters, 15-17 minutes for large ones. I try to get females as much as possible. The short steaming time is enough to cook the meat, but the roe is usually still raw, so I scoop it out and broil it for a minute or 2 with butter or olive oil. If I trust the lobsters as fresh, I just add salt to the water. If not, I add some pepper, parsley, and bay leaf as well as a dry hot pepper. Old bay is too strong tasting for me.

              2. re: bushwickgirl

                I've been getting them for $5.99 and there is so much meat in them, never saw anything like it. Bought a couple three time in the last few weeks. Still craving them though.....

                1. re: bushwickgirl

                  3 - 4 lb avg. are $6.00 at FAIRWAY in Brooklyn from Sept 3-9.

              3. Ever since we stayed with friends in Maine, we've been steaming them. I've always done it the same way, but to be safe, I checked "What's cooking Down in Maine" by William C. Roux.

                You put about 1 inch of water in the bottom of your pot, "and when you have a good head of steam drop them in (cover) and give them about 18 minutes of cooking. (A nice touch:put in a 1/2 cup of sherry. The flavor and sweetness of the meat will be enhanced considerably.)" We always do add the sherry we always thought it was kinder to the lobsters too. The size and number of lobsters does not make a whole lot of difference; I recall at their camp they cooked six lobsters perhaps 1 3/4 lb each. What you do want to do is to check to see that the tails are curled and spring back when pulled. I think that steaming is less messy and extracts less flavor from the meat as well.

                Bon appetit.

                2 Replies
                1. re: junescook

                  I understand that the number of lobsters doesn't make much of a difference in the timing, but how is it possible that the size doesn't either?

                  1. re: JoanN

                    Perhaps because of the size limits on Maine lobsters, however neither the gentleman who taught me the technique (which, of course includes the tail check at the end), nor the cookbook, give any particular instructions about size. I guess it's similar to when you have a clambake at the beach and bury everything in seaweed. When do you take out the 1 1/2 #ers v the 2#ers.

                    Last week I (with the help of another Mainer from this board, Passadumkeg, I grilled some soft shells, and though they have less meat inside them, they actually took longer than I expected them to.

                2. I steam with only an inch or so in the pot, the return to boil is much quicker with less water.
                  And I steam a 1 1/4lb for 12 minutes, from the time I put the lobster(s) in. I immediately cover the pot after placing the lobster(s) in it. For a large lobster like that, I would do about 20 minutes.

                  1. My thanks again to all who responded. As I said, I didn't really need help so much as just wanted to spur a discussion on various personal methods & techniques.
                    I've just enjoyed a fine lobster. Very sweet and very meaty. I timed it per my above method and it actually was just slightly overcooked at around 19 min.---mainly the red meat of the claw. The tomalley was perfect (it has become one of my favorite parts of the lobster).
                    I am indeed now a believer in flavoring the water---at least adding some acid to the salt. Next time I will go easier on the other flavorings. Either the Bay Seasoning, the bay leaves or the celery seed were just a little too perfumy for my tastes and I suspect I was simply too heavy handed. But this in no way ruined my meal and I am a full and happy camper.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: JonL

                      Having many lobster fishermen in the extended family - this is how we've always cooked market (~1.5 lbs)Salt the water water with coarse salt until it tastes like the ocean. Bring to a rolling boil. Plunge them headfirst into the water. Boil for 10 minutes. Turn burner off & let sit for 10 minutes & then remove from pot. Delicious!

                      1. re: JonL

                        Very good news; one question, did you eat it all by yourself?

                        1. re: bushwickgirl

                          (eyes downcast, feet shuffling, he mumbles) yes ma'am.
                          No, actually there's a bit less than half a tail left for a sandwich.
                          This really was one of the tastier lobsters I've had in the last three years. Dunno if it was the court bouillon or just one of those mysteries (I actually posted last year on the subject of 'why was my perfectly good, fresh, big lobster (Fairway, again) blah and unexciting).
                          Actually that's not true---no doubt the court bouillon enhanced the flavor but a sweet lobster is a sweet lobster.

                          1. re: JonL

                            Most large lobsters, nearly all, come from Canada, where the water is really cold and produces a sweet lobster. But some come from Block island Sound, where the water is warmer. I ate a 3.28 lb lobster a week or so ago, and the label on the claw said product of USA. (Too large for a Maine lobster.) While it was good, it just didn't have the sweetness I expected..and it was very fresh and full of meat.