Follow Thomas Keller’s step-by-step guide to preparing perfectly tender, flavorful lobster.
Updated on March 30, 2023
A perfectly cooked lobster is a culinary feat. Most people cook lobster in its shell, which is great for a classic steamed lobster dinner. But once it’s cooked, there’s not a lot else you can do to lobster. Chefs at Thomas Keller’s famed restaurant The French Laundry take a different approach, preparing lobster by flash-cooking the exterior layer of flesh just enough so that it will pull cleanly away from the shell, leaving the interior raw. After removing the meat from the shell, they can manipulate the lobster’s taste and texture as they complete the cooking process, treating the lobster as they would raw fish. Lobster meat prepared this way can be subsequently roasted, chopped for a filling, or poached in butter — a gentle technique favored by Keller that results in lobster so tender that some people think it’s not completely cooked. Here’s how to do it at home:
First, steep the lobsters
- Place 6 lobsters (1 1/2 to 2 pounds each) in a tight-fitting container. Cover the lobsters with cold water to determine how much you will need. Drain off the water into a measuring cup (in batches if needed), then pour the water into a large pot. Bring the water to a boil and add 1/2 cup of white distilled vinegar for every 8 quarts of water you are using.
- Pour the boiling water-vinegar mixture over the lobsters and let them steep for 2 to 3 minutes (2-pound lobsters will need 3 minutes to steep). Use a pair of tongs to remove the lobsters from the water, and reserve the steeping water. Place the lobsters on a sheet pan with rimmed edges or on a cutting board placed over the sink; it is messy to disassemble the lobsters.
- It’s crucial to work with the lobsters while they are hot, or the fat in the meat will congeal and make it difficult to remove the lobster from its shell. Using a towel or rubber gloves to help keep your hold on the hot lobster, grasp the lobster’s tail. Twist and pull the tail to detach it from the body. Twist and pull the arms to detach them and return the arms and claws to the hot water to steep for an additional 5 minutes. Reserve the bodies.
Next, remove the lobster meat from the shell
- For the tail, hold the tail flat and twist the tail fan to one side; pull off and discard. Use your fingers to gently push the meat through the tail end, and pull the meat out through the large opening. Discard the tail shell. Lay the tail meat on its back and cut lengthwise through the middle. Remove the vein running through the top of the meat. Place the finished pieces on a baking sheet pan lined with paper towels.
- For the claws, remove the arms from the hot water after 5 minutes. Twist off the knuckle to remove it from the claw. Hold the claw in your hand and pull down to loosen the lower pincer. Crack it to each side and pull it straight off. The cartilage from inside the claw should be attached to the pincer and the claw meat should remain intact. You may not always succeed in keeping the claw meat in one piece, but with practice your success rate will increase.
- Still holding the claw, crack the top of the shell with the back of a heavy knife blade, about 3/4-inch from the joint where the knuckle was attached. You want to go through the shell but not damage the meat. Turn the claw over and repeat the procedure a second time. Wiggle your knife to loosen and crack the shell. Pull off the lower section of the shell.
- Shake the claw to remove the meat (if it doesn’t fall out, cut off the very tip of the claw shell and blow through the hole to release the meat). Add the claws to the tail meat.
- For the knuckles, cut off the top joint of the knuckle that was attached to the lobster’s body. Use a pair of scissors to cut away the shell along the smooth outside edge of the knuckle. Use your fingers to pry open the shell and remove the meat. Add the knuckle meat to the tails and claws. Cover the lobster pieces with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to a day.
- Pull back and discard the top shell of the lobster including the heads and antenna, remove the tomalley (gray), the roe (deep green), the feathery lungs, and the sack behind the head. You may want to reserve the tomalley and roe for other uses (they can be wrapped and frozen separately), but discard the lungs and sack.
- You will be left with the bodies and legs. Rinse them thoroughly under cold water and use them immediately or freeze them to make lobster stock or a consommé.
Now, you can finish cooking the lobster any way you like. For a simple meal, gently sauté the lobster meat in more butter over low heat along with some herbs and crushed red pepper flakes, then toss it with cooked pasta. Or go for a more upscale feel and try this Lobster Gnudi recipe. Thomas Keller likes to butter-poach the lobster slowly and gently, so the meat remains exquisitely tender as it takes in the rich buttery flavor. Infusing the butter with spices or herbs adds another layer of complexity perfect for lobster brioche rolls or this Spicy Lobster Noodle Salad. You can use butter-poached lobster for lobster rolls or a decadent BLT, fold it into Lobster Risotto, or make it the star of these Lobster Tournedos with Cornbread created by Erick Williams. Then pour a glass to accompany one of the best treats to come out of the kitchen.
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