Last weekend I headed round to my friends Zoe & Martin’s house for the day. I sometimes take live lobsters round there to cook on occasion and seeing as it was Martin’s birthday the next day this was one of those occasions. Their daughter Suki always takes particular interest in the lobsters. She is not in the slightest bit squeamish and cheerfully points out that meat/game/fish on her plate is ‘dead’ before tucking in!
I think it’s a good thing to get children helping in the kitchen as young as possible and to also recognise that they are capable of a lot more than stirring cake mixture. I think we patronise them if we believe them incapable of more complex tasks and we end up with the type of phenomenon we’re seeing now – grown adults who are unable to cut a chicken up or fillet a piece of fish or even make themselves a basic dinner. Suki certainly won’t fall into that category! She is very astute about ingredients and actually, genuinely helpful in the kitchen. She competently picked me off a bowl of holy basil leaves and crushed the crackers I needed for the crab cakes (recipe for those to follow at some point). She cleaned and dried the lobster shells for presentation and took a close interest in the prepping of the lobster. We had great fun and enjoyed a delicious meal at the end of it. Take it from me; you can only gain by teaching your kids to cook as early as possible. I should know. My own daughter (aka The Munchkin) has been capable of making a full roast dinner since the age of 13 and by the time she went to university could cook virtually anything – unlike one girl in her halls of residence who was unaware that bacon had to be cooked. I kid you not.
First, meet your lobster.
Next, lay out your ingredients…
… then, do the Dali reference….
…then, get on with it!
2 live 1lb to 11/2 lb lobsters
2 long green chillies
2 long red chillies
2 inch piece of galangal (or ginger)
Large handful holy basil leaves (or coriander), shredded
2 stalks lemongrass
4 fat cloves garlic
Oil for frying
2 tbsp brown sugar (preferably palm)
2 tbsp fish sauce (or light soy sauce)
½ lb salt
First of all, do the humane thing and put the lobsters in the freezer to go to sleep and in the meantime make your sauce. Finely chop the chillies (having first de-seeded them), the galangal or ginger, the garlic and the white inner part of the lemongrass. If you have a little helper, get them to pick you a large handful of holy basil or coriander leaves. If not, do it yourself! In a small pan heat a couple of tablespoons of oil and gently sauté the chilli, ginger, garlic and lemongrass. When they are softened but not browned add the fish sauce/soy sauce, the sugar and heat through very gently until the sugar has dissolved. Allow to cool completely and add the shredded holy basil/coriander and the juice of one of the limes. You should never add lime or lemon juice to sauces while they are still being heated as the juice becomes bitter.
To cook the lobsters you need a really large pan. Fill it three quarters full of water , add the salt and bring to the boil. You may feel that the amount of salt is excessive but what you’re trying to emulate is sea water. In fact, if you’re lucky enough to be cooking this dish any where near the sea then use sea water. Take the lobsters straight from the freezer to the pan and drop them in. They will only take 15 mins – but make sure you time that 15 mins from when the water comes back up to the boil. As soon as the time is up put the lobsters under running cold water to chill them down and stop the cooking process. If they overcook they will be tough and you’ll have wasted your money. Once you’re sure they have chilled completely you can extract the meat.
Lay them on their backs and take a heavy bladed knife (preferably a cleaver) down the centre line of the lobster (see photos). Put your other hand over the blade and apply pressure enough to take the knife right through the body and shell. You can then crack the whole thing in two. Remove the legs and claws and wrap them in a tea towel placed on a chopping board. Also, remove the dead man’s fingers – which are poisonous – and discard. They are grey, floppy and pointy and can be found in the body. Discard the contents of the head too unless you’re super efficient and are making stock for lobster bisque. The shells can also be employed for stock.
To remove the tail meat get your thumb underneath the pointed tip and run it right up the tail. Now, using your heavy blade again – but this time the back of it – give the claws in the tea towel a good smack. Unwrap them and carefully remove the meat. For the smaller pieces you will need to employ a ‘pokey thing’ (technical term) which can be a chopstick, a BBQ skewer – anything you can coax the meat out with. When you have gotten all you can from the shells and claws hand them over to your trusty helper for cleaning and drying (or again, do it yourself).
Cut the meat into bite size pieces and turn it through your sauce. Let it sit awhile and absorb the flavours. When you’re ready to serve, arrange the shells on a serving plate and spoon the meat into them (Suki’s big sister Lauren did this part – the more helpers the better!). Pour over any left over sauce and serve with lime wedges. You could enjoy this as part of a Thai meal or as a starter.