Crustacean Nation II: Claws

Grocery Store

GUEST: Grocery Employee(s)

AB: [to grocery employee] They're usually about that big around, looks, looks kind of like a clod of dirt, but it's not. It's actually related to a mushroom. ...

    [voice over] When you're in the mood to spoil yourself with a little luxury, it's a comfort to know that the culinary world is always there with its delicacies. The problem is, those delicacies can be a little elusive sometimes.

AB: ... [to another grocery employee] and they feed them beer every day, and they get massages every day until eventually the meat is just perfectly marbled and then ...

    Sometimes they're not actually elusive. They're flat-out impossible to find.

AB: Well, well, I guess it is a pretty nice life until ... but ... but ... never mind.

    And sometimes you get lucky and you find that perfect bite or sip and you think, "ah, score!"  And then you look and see that the price is a little out of your range.

AB: MMM. Gee.



    Then, of course, sometimes it's just way, way out of your range. But don't despair. There is hope.

per ounce

    Hmm. Come to think of it, there is one food which despite its luxe rep is conveniently available, surprisingly affordable, too. The trick is to know how to buy it, how to store it, how to cook it and especially how to eat it. Sound like, uh, "Food Styles of the Rich and Famous?"  Nah. Lobster here is just plain, old good eats.

Inland Seafood: Atlanta, GA - 9:37 am

GUEST: Joel Knox, President, Inland Seafood

    Ask ten people to make a list of their top five favorite foods and I'm willing to bet that nine out of ten of those lists will include the word 'lobster'. Ask the same ten people to make a list of the top five foods they're afraid to cook and I'm betting eight out of ten of them will say 'lobster'.

    Now I suspect that this is the result of an evil scheme hatched by restaurateurs to convince us regular folks that we cannot prepare our own lobster. Now when I say our own lobster, I mean our 'own' lobster. America, meet Homarus americanus, or American lobster, a.k.a. The Maine Lobster. And I must say the biggest one that I've personally ever encountered. Now there are about 30 different varieties of lobster scuttling around the sea floor out there, but this is the lobster that lobster-lovers think of when they think of lobster.

Homarus americanus

    Now it's completely understandable that since we just met, we would have a few misconceptions to clear up and that's why I'm here at Inland Seafood because about 35 thousand pounds of lobster go through this room every day all under the watchful eye of Joel Knox.

AB: Hi, Joel. How ya doin'?
JOEL KNOX: Hey, Alton. How're ya doin'?
AB: Good. Lobsters taste the same year around?
JK: Not really. Not really. Lobsters are like all crustaceans, like a shrimp, like a crab. The only way a lobster grows is it sheds its exoskeleton.
AB: It molts.
JK: It molts. It sheds its shell. And then as it sheds its shell, it grows. This lobster after it sheds will probably gain, when it's fully matured, around a quarter to a third of a pound.
AB: Okay, do we ever eat them that way? I mean ...
JK: Oh yes. In Maine when you go up there, a new-shell lobster which is another way of saying a soft-shelled lobster is usually what you see.
AB: Does the meat actually taste different?
JK: Uh, I think the meat on a hard shell is a little bit firmer. I think the meat on a soft shell is less firm but I think it's sweeter.
AB: Which leads me to my next question. When Joel Knox takes home lobsters, what does he do with them?
JK: Uh, I have more recipes for lobsters than Bubba Gump had for shrimp.
AB: Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.

Kroger: Alpharetta, GA - 10:52 am

    Once you've scoped a promising prospect, pick it up by grabbing hold of either side of the thorax just above the walking legs. Okay, believe me, none of its parts can reach any of your parts from this angle. Now if your monger gives you grief about you wanting to take a test drive like this, tell him or her that you'll be happy to wear disposable gloves. If they still balk at the idea, ... [holds up a package of pork chops.]

buy the pork chops

    Okay, move your lobster around. See how he moves back. Okay? The more he moves, the better. Lively is good, lethargic ... [indicates package of pork chops again.] Now, give the thorax a gentle squeeze. Does the shell feel rigid, or is there a good bit of give? Give means a soft shell lobster that's recently molted and that means the meat's going to be on the puny side and a good bit of the weight that you're going to pay top dollar for is probably water, okay?

    Now, uh, this guy looks good and at a pound and three quarters, a very respectable meal for one.


AB #1: Now, uh, what transportation are you prepared to supply?
AB #2: Well, I have a cooler with a cold pack in the bottom and a few sections of today's newspaper wet but not dripping.
AB #1: Perfect. Is that going to be it for you?
AB #2: You know, uh, I think I'll go for number two.
AB #1:  Okay. Let's say just under a pound and a half.
AB #2: Yeah? May I?
AB #1: Certainly.
AB #2: Ooo, lively. And a girl to boot.
AB #1: A matched set. Isn't it romantic?

The Kitchen

   Lobster eating comes with some philosophical baggage. Aside from faceless shellfish like mussels or maybe the occasional crab, lobsters are the only critters most of us will ever dispatch in the comfort of our kitchens. If this troubles you, please consider the animal kingdom. Down at the bottom, of course, we have germs. Higher up, flatworms and then way up in phylum chordata subphylum mammalia, just above the wombats and the lemurs, us: man*.
    Now way over here on the other branch, we find phylum anthropoid subphylum crustacean and the lobster**. What's interesting is that just next door in subphylum uniramia, we've got ... [steps on a cockroach¤.] Actually, a lobster brain's more like a grasshopper but then we really do have to use the term "brain" very, very loosely. The point is a lobster is a bug. And if you can stomp a roach or smush a spider just for crossing your path, you shouldn't get too teary eyed about sending a lobster to sleep with the fishes, especially if you're going to eat it. But, that doesn't mean you shouldn't opt for a humane method. And morbid or not it does seem to be a subject that a lot of people have strong opinions on.

    Actually there are only two methods recognized by the Geneva Convention. The first one is instantaneous and if I were a lobster and somebody gave me a choice this is the method I would choose. Take a chef's knife, a big heavy one, and place the point right in this crack down the head, right behind the eyes by about an inch. [ominous music] Hmm. Okay. Uh, if you think you're up to it, put the knife right in that crack and then push straight down to the board and chop forward and thus bifurcating the head. The bug will be dead instantaneously. No fuss.
    Now if you don't feel you're up to it, well, let's chill. Fifteen to twenty minutes in here [freezer] and they won't feel a thing when the time comes. That's what the experts say. I'm not a lobster so I can't say. But I do know that it will slow down their metabolisms significantly and numb them to the point that they won't even move when you get them out. By the way, you don't need a lid here. Despite that scene in Annie Hall, lobsters are not terrestrially inclined.

3 ounces of lobster meat contains 60 mg. of cholesterol.
The same amount of skinless chicken breast contains almost 75 mg.

The Kitchen

    In America, tradition demands that lobsters be boiled. The problem is that doing it right requires a lot of water, nearly a gallon per lobster. And most home ranges need at least an hour, if not an hour and a half, to bring that much liquid to a boil. Then you've got to put the bugs in, then you've got to watch for the water to come back to a boil and then you've got to time it. And even though you do time it, they still end up water logged. And then for dessert, you've got a whole, big ole pot of smelly hot water to get rid of. It's a hassle. Which is why I don't do it. I steam.
    Just fill your widest post with an inch of water and put it over high heat. Oh, you like my rocks? Got 'em from a stream nearby. I don't advocate doing this with your fine, non-stick cookware, but there are a lot of advantages. They fit in any pot. They heat very evenly. They help steam to distribute evenly. And uh, oh, get this:  because they provide friction, they'll actually help the lobster tails not curl as much when they cook. You can get the same effect from tying a chopstick lengthwise to the underside of the tail. Heh, heh. Try that once and you'll get some rocks.

    I also like the fact that you can add a little flavor with fresh herbs. Got some parsley and some thyme and some rosemary, here. It sounds hauntingly familiar. And you just put this right down on the rocks. And since they're actually kind of dry on top, you get a little better flavor out of them. But don't put them in until the lobster's ready. In the meantime while this builds up a head of steam, we'll review some lobster hardware.

fresh herbs:

    In addition to the pot and the rocks you're going to need some kitchen shears, or better yet tin snips. You're going to need an oven mitt, or a welding glove. You'll also need a pan—a half-sheet pan will do just fine or so will a cookie sheet—, heavy aluminum foil, one rolling pin. A few sprigs of rosemary, a little bit of the thyme just right on top of the rocks and a little bit of parsley. Time for a wakeup call.

tin snips
welding glove
half sheet pan
heavy duty aluminum foil
rolling pin

    Looks like they're out. Now, don't go shaking around the pan, you might wake them up.

    Do this fast. Bug number one, in. Put number two, in. Count to 10. [waits for 10 count] You're bugs are already dead.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Like insects, lobsters occasionally continue
to move several minutes post mortem.

    Within a couple of minutes all signs of life, random or otherwise, are gone and the shells have turned bright red. Now the responsible pigment called astaxanthin was always there, but it was connected to a series of proteins which produced the original dark mottled look. The heat cooked the proteins which in turn let go of the astaxanthin. So, now it's red.

2 minutes later


    Now to continue cooking, cover, drop the heat to medium and set your timer for ...

wt.          min.
1 lb.             7
1 1/4            9
1 1/2          12
1 3/4          14

    This guy is still mostly raw. And we're going to keep him that way.
    By shocking the lobster in ice water, we can halt the cooking process immediately. Now this is an example of par-cooking or partially cooking something that you plan to finish off later. It's a time and labor saving measure and in this case it gives us a nicely, dead lobster. But the problem with lobster is, is that as soon as it expires its digestive system seeks revenge by allowing gastric juices to seep into the meat thus turning it into mush. But this can be avoided by removing a few parts.

Lobster size does not effect [sic] flavor or texture.
Overcooking however, does.

    In ten to fifteen minutes, your bug will be ready to go. Now we've got to get at those parts, those gastric parts which are inside here. We also want to get to the tail meat. So here's how I do it. Take the tip of your chef's knife and place it right at the dividing line down the thorax. Put your other hand on the other side holding the shell together and split, one cut, and then just slowly crack all the way down. Now, grab both sides of his head and roll him over on to his back. Now basically we want to carry on this cut all the way down the tail. The reason it's easier to do this way, is that now the harder shell is facing the board. So just slowly work your way through the tail meat. There's going to be a lot of cracking sounds. That's okay. Now when you're sure you're all the way through, just kind of crack him open.
    I didn't say it was going to be pretty inside. There are some parts. Parts that we need to remove. Mostly things like liver and stomach and things like that. Just sweep your hand in and grab hold and pull it out. Now truth is, there's a lot of lobster lovers are at home cringing right now because these are prized parts, especially the liver or tomalley. But, since lobsters are often crawling about in polluted waters, I don't like to do that because the pollution and other contaminants can lodge themselves in that liver.
    We've got the lobster meat which is just starting to turn translucent but it's still, culinarily speaking, raw. And we've got this nice, open cavity area. Now it would be really great to put some stuffing in there. The problem is, is that stuffing would require extra meat. Of course, if you know where to go that's not a problem. [rips off lobster legs] See.
    Beginning lobster lovers often fawn over the tail and claw meat but true lobster lovers know that locked inside here is some really good eats. The problem is getting at it. I've literally seen guys kind of blow out a lung trying to suck that stuff out of there. The way to do it is to use simple tools. Now first you may need to cut off the joint with your tin snips. You could do this with shears, too. Sometimes they come off, sometimes they don't. There you go. That gives you clear access to the insides. Then one at a time take your rolling pin to it and just roll the meat out. Look at that. Pure lobster meat. That's going to make great stuffing. Believe it or not, there's probably close to an ounce of meat locked away inside these little guys.

During colonial times, Massachusetts servants went on strike insisting
they they not be forced to eat lobster more than 3 times a week.

The Kitchen

    For each lobster that you plan to stuff, sweat two tablespoons of finely chopped onion and one tablespoon of unsalted butter over low heat for about three minutes or until the onions become translucent.

2 Tbls finely chopped onion
1 Tbls butter

    Then add about a quarter teaspoon of freshly minced lemon zest and about a tablespoon of chopped scallions. You could use chives for this but I think I like the snap of this a little bit better. Now just toss that around for just a few seconds just to work everything together.

1/4 tsp lemon zest
1 Tbls chopped scallion

    And then add the lobster leg meat. Now when you put this in, don't just dump it in the pan. Kind of crush it out in your fingers as you go. That'll help to break up the meat and evenly distribute it through the stuffing which will guarantee you better flavor. There.

leg meat

    Now making sure the heat is on low, toss for about a minute, just long enough to heat through the leg meat.

    Now grind on a bit of black pepper ... there ... and next up, five crackers. I'm not going to tell you what kind these are [Ritz]. I think you already know. Just crush them right into the pan. Don't worry about getting them even. You want big chunks, you want little chunks. And now turn off the heat and toss until the crackers have soaked up all the juice in the pan. Now if for some reason it looks like they're not going to be able to soak it all up, add more crackers. The whole point here is that we have enough absorptive power left over to soak up whatever juice comes out of that lobster. This looks really dry and crumbly. Time to stuff.

fresh ground pepper

5 crackers

    Now before we actually get to stuffing, we need to take just a moment and talk about claws. Now had these been soft shelled lobsters, odds are very good that these claws would only be about half full of meat, in which case they'd probably cook in about the same time it would take the tails to cook. But, these are hard shelled claws, and so they are probably almost full, which is a good thing for us when we eat, but it does mean they will take longer to cook.

    The answer? Give them a head start. Just cut them off right at the joint of the body like that. Remove the band because plastic is not good eats and put it right on the pan. Repeat on your other bug [sic]. Ah. Notice that this was a left-handed lobster. And right into a 450 degree oven with no other ceremony necessary. We're going to give that four minutes head start. Four will be enough.

450° oven

    Now we can actually turn to the stuffing portion. We're going to need a platform to kind of hold these guys steady and I'm a big fan of heavy-duty aluminum foil. So lay that out and just put down your bugs kind of opposing each other—now we'll just line them up like that—and kind of crinkle the foil so that they kind of lay even with each other. We're looking for a nice, level reservoir, as it were, or else the stuffing is going to fall out and we don't want them to roll at all. That looks good.
    Now just take a spoon and add the stuffing. What you do not want to do is to pack the stuffing right into the cavity. Because if you do that, there's no way it's going to absorb anything. It will just become a big solid knot of crackers and meat and seasonings which won't be good. Just pile it in but do not push down.

    Now the last thing we need is a little bit of lubrication, a little fat for the surface of the tail meat. And for that I just like regular olive oil, extra virgin actually will do the trick, and just kind of pour it on your brush and lube it up. You could also do this with butter. But since we're going to be serving butter with this later, I like the additional flavor involved here. No salt, no pepper at this point. Pepper would probably burn in the oven.

extra virgin olive oil to coat

    Now the claws have had a nice little, uh, little head start. So just slide your homemade pan right next to it. There. And set your timer for ... well that would depend on your lobster, wouldn't it?

Total roasting time
wt.        min.
1 lb.       10
1 1/4      12
1 1/2      14
1 3/4      16
2            20

The Kitchen

    There. Everything is done at the same time. Now since the body basically makes its own bowl, you can just move this straight out to a plate. I like to line mine with some greens just to provide some friction so that I don't let that slide off on the way to the dinner table.
    Now we have this [claws] to deal with. Now this is not as easy. You deliver this to the table and everybody will just stare at you for a few hours. Now at French restaurants what they do is they, uh, they basically break this off from the rest of the arm like that—save that, great meat in there—and then they take this and they lay it down on the board and you take the back of your chef's knife and you go right in between the joint and that first spine. And if you've got a great blade and a little confidence, you can ... I just don't have that kind of confidence which is why I have a motto, "in channel locks we trust."
    This is how I do it. Just put the fat side of the knuckle right there in between that joint and squeeze until you hear a sickening crunch. [snap] That's a sickening crunch. Now just grab ... ah, still hot ... grab the pincer and move it back and forth once for another crunch and then another crunch. And then you should be able to slide out the meat. Get it wiggled up ... there you go ... and that other piece will slide out like that.
    Now here's the fun part. Take your little finger right into that open joint. Feel around and you ought to be able to push the meat straight out of the socket. It's a little bit of work but that is worth the work. Just move that and serve it right on top of the rest of the lobster like that.
    Now since you have done all the work, the diner doesn't have to do anything but pick up a fork and squeeze on some lemon. If you want to give them the work, that means the steamed lobster.

    All right. One more. Mm. Mmm. We hope that we've convinced you that lobster is well within your ways and means. Think of it as an investment in pleasure that you're now fully ready maximize. Just remember the rules: be very particular when you purchase, transport and store properly, kill humanely and prepare very, very basically.

  • choose 'em wisely

  • keep 'em cool

  • kill 'em kindly

  • cook 'em simply

    Oh, and do not waste a morsel. Even, well, even these shells are well on their way to becoming a lobster butter or a crustacean broth. Of course, that will have be another episode of Good Eats.

Proof Reading help from Sue Libretti

    1 : the study of the general principles of scientific classification : SYSTEMATICS
    2 : CLASSIFICATION; especially : orderly classification of plants and animals according to their
         presumed natural relationships
    1 : the science of classification 
    2    a : a system of classification
          b : the classification and study of organisms with regard to their natural relationships





Domain    Eukaryote Eukaryote Eukaryote
Kingdom    Animalia Animalia Animalia
Phylum    Chordata Arthropoda Arthropoda
Subphylum    Vertebrata Crustacea Uniramia
Class    Mammalia Malacostraca Hexapoda
Subclass    Eutheria --- Neoptera
Order    Primates Decapoda Blattodea
Suborder    Anthropoidea or
--- ---
Infraorder    Catarrhini Astacidea ---
Superfamily    Hominoidea --- ---
Family    Hominidae Nephropidae Blattidae
Genus    Homo Homarus Periplaneta
Species    Sapiens Americanus Americana
Subspecies    Sapiens --- ---

The following is from Dr. Bubbles, as he calls himself.
He seems to be knowledgeable in this taxidermic so I add it here:

    In the show, it sounds like AB calls lobsters Anthropoids, but he surely meant to say Arthropods. Arthropods include insects, arachnids (spiders), and crustaceans. Anthropoids include monkeys, apes, and humans." And include a reference to the chart. It already uses Arthropod for the lobster and roach, so if you got Anthropoid into the Human column, that would help clarify things.

Speaking of the Human column of the chart, it should read (in part):
         Order: Primates
      Suborder: Anthropoidea (OR Haplorhini [see below])
    Infraorder: Catarrhini
   Superfamily: Hominoidea
        Family: Hominidae
    *Subfamily: Homininae
         Genus: Homo
*optional (see below below)

    You have to make a choice at the suborder. There's a group of primates (the tarsiers) that is taxonomically problematic. Haplorhini includes them, and Anthropoidea doesn't, but they are both legitimate suborders. (Look at slides 4 and 5 to see the difference.) Where to put tarsiers is a question of which traits to emphasize. Because the anthropoid/prosimian distinction is more common in the vernacular than the haplorhine/strepsirrhine distinction, and the apparent use of the word "anthropoid" is what brought this all up, I'd go with Anthropoidea on the chart. Anyone who might be annoyed by that knows enough to realize that tarsiers are a taxonomic pain anyway. (BTW, suborders come before infraorders.)

Here's what's in the salient primate taxa.

  • Anthropoidea: monkeys, apes, and hominids (contrasted with the Prosimii, the lemurs, lorises, and tarsiers).
    Haplorhini: tarsiers, monkeys, apes, and hominids (contrasted with the Strepsirrhini, the lemurs and lorises).

  • Catarrhini: apes, hominids, and Old World monkeys (New World monkeys [and tarsiers if you used Haplorhini] are in other infraorders).

  • Hominoidea: apes and hominids (Old World monkeys are divided into several superfamilies).

  • Hominidae: definitely bipedal ape-like things, and maybe great apes (see below) (lesser apes [gibbons] are in another family).

  • *Homininae: only bipedal ape-like things (see below).
    Homo: the only surviving genus of bipedal ape-like things.

*Subfamily Homininae: another subject of argument. If you think humans and great apes [chimps, gorillas, & orangs] are more closely related to each other than either is to lesser apes, then you use it. But if you don't think so, then you don't use it. It's up to you.

Hit Counter

Last Edited on 12/02/2011