11/03/2011 01:58 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2012


Lobsters aren't a truly seasonal food; they're available year round, and they're often actually more plentiful (and therefore cheaper) in winter months, but we associate them with summer eating. And understandably so: The idea of eating fresh-caught lobster on a balmy summer evening -- preferably at a picnic table or on the beach, preferably with plenty of chilled white wine or ice-cold beer -- is undeniably appealing.

Problem is, though most people consider lobster a treat, many find cooking it at home an intimidating prospect. And there are other options: You can buy precooked or frozen lobster meat, or ask your fish counter to steam fresh lobster for you before you take it home.

But freshly cooked lobster meat tastes way better than precooked, and cooking your own lobster is easy and even rewarding. All you have to do is (confidently, without hesitation) drop the creatures into a pot of boiling salted water and replace the lid. (You can steam them, in relatively little water, or boil them; it doesn't matter much.)

Putting the lobsters in the freezer for 15 or 20 minutes before cooking them slows down their metabolism and may help ease any squeamishness. Or -- if it's not the killing that bothers you but the slow death-stick a sharp, thin-bladed paring knife into the "crosshairs," right behind the lobster's eyes, before throwing it in the pot.

Except for lobsters over two pounds, they're done when they turn red. (To be doubly sure, or with large lobsters, stick a meat thermometer into the tail; you're looking for 140° F.) Remove them from the water and let them cool slightly, then puncture the crosshairs and pour out any water that's accumulated in the shell. They're ready to serve, and you can eat everything you find in there except the head sac. The green stuff (liver, or tomalley) puts some people off, though almost everyone savors the bright red eggs, called coral and found only in female lobsters.

Dipping steamed or boiled lobster in melted butter is classic and delicious, but really everything tastes good dipped in melted butter. You'll do just as well with lemon wedges; the acid of lemon juice sets off lobster's richness instead of competing with it. If you feel like gilding the lily, try good mayonnaise or aioli (both especially good with chilled lobster). Or, to go in a completely different direction, combine some soy sauce with a little rice vinegar, sesame oil, a pinch of sugar, and some minced garlic and ginger, and use this as a dipping sauce.

Don't throw away either the cooking water or the leftover shells, but combine them and simmer for 15 minutes or more, then strain for fabulous-tasting lobster stock. (You can add onion, carrot, celery, parsley, or a bay leaf if you like to make a more multidimensional stock, but even stock made only from lobster parts is a revelation.) Refrigerate or freeze and use it anywhere you want to add amazing flavor: risottos, pilafs, pasta dishes, stir-fries. Or-if you want to go all out-use it as a base for lobster bisque, an insanely rich and flavorful chowder-like soup that will win over anyone who tastes it.


Steamed or Boiled Lobster

Lobster Bisque