Eddie writes: For our anniversary this weekend, I want to cook up some lobsters for me and my wife. The thing is I don’t want to make a mess because that will piss her off. Lobsters as simple as they can be prepared and any ideas you have for the rest of the meal – stuff that looks good but isn’t too hard to make. Thanks!
Tony’s take: As you accurately point out, Eddie, lobsters are a high-risk, high-reward preparation. There’s plenty that could go wrong with this sort of meal, most notably, a battered and fishy-smelling kitchen (not the ideal way to say, “Happy anniversary, honey!”). My advice is to focus on the logistics first and everything else should fall into place. Since cooking lobsters really isn’t that complicated, it’s the mess itself which is the thing. If you head outside and prepare the lobsters at the grill, you can keep the kitchen spotless and that’s really what romance is all about. Par-boil the lobsters (you also can do this outside if you have a gas grill – stick a pot of water on the side burner if you have or put it directly on the grill grates). After par-cooking the lobsters, halve them lengthwise and then set them on the grill to pick up some grill marks and a little smoky flavor. Baste the lobsters with melted butter infused with smashed garlic cloves and a light sprinkling of chopped fresh herbs (tarragon or basil would be nice). Because the lobster will already be split in half for grilling, it will be easy eating (another plus). Serve it with a crusty loaf of bread, a dry white wine, and a light, fall-ish salad: maybe some baby spinach, roasted pears, crumbled blue cheese, and a splash of olive oil and balsamic. The whole thing will feel fancy and special, even if it’s relatively easy work. And the best part is that the kitchen will still be clean.
Serves 2: Prep time: 30 minutes Cook time: 25 minutes
What you need: Ingredients: Lobsters (aim for one 1 1/2 pounder for each person), 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, chopped fresh herbs (a couple tablespoons basil or tarragon or 1 tsp. thyme), S+P, lemon (1), olive oil.
Equipment: Large, heavy-based pot (for par-boiling the lobsters), cutting board, chef’s knife, small saucepan, peeler, tongs, basting brush
How to do it: Steam the lobsters (you can do this up to 1 day ahead if you like): Steaming is preferable (to boiling) because it doesn’t saturate the lobster’s meat with liquid. To do this, fill a large pot with a couple of inches of water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a steady simmer, add the lobsters (before this step, you can make a slit right through their eyes using a chef’s knife for the quickest and most humane kill – if not, it should only take about 1 minute in the pot – your call), cover the pot and cook without touching for 8 minutes for a 1 1/2-pounder (set a timer – the goal is to have the meat just a touch undercooked before finishing it on the grill) so that the lobster shell is bright red. Using a pair of tongs, transfer the lobsters from the pot to a large bowl of ice water to cool.
Make the butter: Melt 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in 2 smashed garlic cloves, some chopped fresh herbs (a couple tablespoons of tarragon or basil would be good), and a couple strips of lemon zest (use a peeler to shave 1-inch wide strips, taking care not to get too much of the white pith). Season with S+P to taste, divide into two small bowls (one for basting and one for serving), and keep warm until serving.
Grill the lobsters: Prepare a medium charcoal fire or heat the burners on a gas grill to medium high. Set the cooled lobsters on a cutting board and cut in half lengthwise; start in the middle of the back where it’s easiest to cut cleanly through the body and then make alternating cuts in each direction. Pat the exposed flesh (and any gunk) dry with paper towels and then brush the flesh lightly with olive oil (about 1 Tbs.) – this will help with browning and prevent sticking. Once the grill is properly heated, scrape the grates well with a wire brush to remove any debris (this is important both to prevent sticking and any off flavors). Rub a wad of paper towels dipped in olive oil over the grill grates. Set the lobsters on the grill meaty side down and grill without touching for 2 to 3 minutes so they get good grill marks but the meat doesn’t toughen. Flip the lobsters so they are shell facing down, baste generously with the butter, and cook, basting one or two more times, about 2 more minutes.
Serves the lobster with the remaining butter for dipping and with a squeeze of lemon juice if you like. Leave any grill or deck clean-up for tomorrow.