In common with Fox News, Justin Bieber and those funny little tassels which some men like to wear on their loafers, lobster is one of those things whose popularity I’ve always struggled to understand. I’ve tried, I really have. But lobsters – like Bieber – possess such an abundance of things to loath: the monstrous insect form, the writhing antennae, the diet of decomposing matter on the ocean bed, the inability to be farmed because they eat each others’ young.
And yet for all these turn-offs, this prodigiously sized cockroach is shorthand for refinement and gastronomic elitism. In Europe, at least, it is le beau monde on a plate. Growing up I came to believe that lobster could only be eaten by weathly, pink-faced fatties in the kind of restaurant where the sommelier wears a leather apron and a gleaming silver dome is brought tableside to reveal the giant arthropod steaming gently, cooked (per the 16th century French writer Rabelais) “red like a cardinal’s hat”.
This halo of inaccessibility meant that when I first visited the coast of Maine at the age of nineteen, I was astonished by the affordability of lobster and made up for lost time by gobbling two in a single sitting just to see what the fuss was about. I paid dearly for my enthusiasm. I thought the lobster meat tasted nice, but no better than crab. My novice fingers slipped on their barbed shells and bled. And after dinner, that night was a terrifying, sweaty ordeal as my stomach churned frantically to digest the overload of rich, buttery flesh. In a series of hysterical dreams I wandered – as if in a Hieronymus Bosch painting – across a barren landscape, set upon by terrifying, giant crustaceans in punishment for my gluttony. The next day I woke up exhausted, depressed, defeated. Since then I’ve always hated lobsters.
So when my father-in-law Bennett invited me to his house to cook some seafood on his Tuscan grill, I seized upon the opportunity to settle this old score and kill one of these creatures myself.
In most cases I’m one of those hypocritical, lilly-livered urbanites who is happy to eat all manner of animals as long as I’m not actively involved in the killing. I have no problem with you wringing the chicken’s neck or firing a bolt through the veal-calf’s head; I’ll just be at home watching Antiques Roadshow with a scotch in hand while you do the dirty work. This time, though, I was happy to strap on a pair and leave my cowardice (dressed as pacifism) behind: I’ve long despised you, lobster, and it was time for you to die at my hands.
That being said, the least I could do was award the sea-cockroach a quick and dignified death, so I researched the varying methods of painlessly killing lobsters. There seem to be three prevailing methods. An entertaining subway commute was spent pondering whether, if I were to be condemned one day for hideous crimes and sentenced to die, would I prefer to be (a) plunged into a vat of boiling water, (b) interred in a freezer until unconscious, and then dropped in that same vat of boiling water, or (c) have a knife plunged through my unexpecting skull, split in half and roasted on an open fire. Surely the correct answer has to be (c). (If you disagree, feel free to argue your case by leaving a comment below.)
I selected Bennett’s largest, sharpest cleaver. Then took the live lobster out of the bag where he’d been lurking since we’d plucked him from the local fish market where I’d watched him grub around moronically around his little pool.
Before placing him on the chopping block, I raised him to eye-level and looked him in the face. What I expected to discover, I’m not sure. Some strange metaphysical connection? A moment of ecstatic truth between two of God’s creatures which would prompt me to set the lobster free? But no, all I saw was a monstrous sea-insect, hideous on every conceivable level. My grip tightened on the cleaver, and my rictus grin hardened.
I flipped the lobster on its back and raised the blade. The lobster flung out its claws in a profane Christ-like pose. I swung the cleaver down through the vertical of its head, letting out a strange, primal shriek which sounded like it issued from someone else’s mouth, not mine. The lobster twitched a bit and died. I uncorked the bottle of rye whiskey I save in Captain Bennett’s kitchen for emergencies, took a long pull, and walked outside feeling somehow older, sadder, wiser.
The lobster now looking pleasingly like a Damien Hurst sculpture, I could now focus on the business of grilling. Of the many methods of cooking directly over heat, Tuscan grilling must be the most raw and elemental. There is no propane, no lids, no knobs, no gauges, no gadgets, no vents, no heat-storing ceramics. Just a metal grate, a wood burning fire, the food, and you. The lobster was joined on the grill by a majestic red snapper which was prepared thus:
- 1 whole Red Snapper. Bigger is better.
- Kosher Salt
- Bouquet of fresh herbs (we used parsley, sage, rosemary)
- Lemon juice
Get the fishmonger to gut, scale and clean the fish. Make three deep cuts through the fish on either side down to the bone. In the cavity of the fish, place the bouquet of herbs and a splash of oil. Rub some more oil over the fish (not too much) and sprinkle it with kosher salt & pepper. If you have one, place in a fish basket like the one pictured below. If not, double up a sheet of foil and puncture it many times to create lots of holes.
Light a hard wood fire. Let it burn down to hot embers, and place your Tuscan grill over it. If you have any woods like apple or peach those are great. We used dried vine cuttings from the vineyard which Captain Bennett overlooks. Rake the coals to get the desired spread of heat.
Place the fish on the grill (on top of the foil if you are using it). Keep an eye on it. Turn once. Use your judgment in terms of doneness. Remove from fish basket, pour a little more oil over the fish, squeeze some lemon over it and season more if you think it needs it.
Serve family style, with your diners helping themselves to the flesh.
As for Mr Lobster, we grilled him simply, resting on a piece of foil to catch the juices. The recipe:
GRILLED LOBSTER ON A TUSCAN GRILL
- A live lobster
- Some lemon
- Some melted butter
Kill the lobster by cutting it length ways with a large knife. (If you are a sissy you can get the fishmonger to do it for you by steaming it for a couple of minutes. If you choose to go down this route, be careful not to fully cook the lobster – you only want it to be dead, not done. Most of the cooking should be done on the fire.)
Light a hard wood fire. Let it burn down to hot embers, and place your Tuscan grill over it. Rake the coals to get the desired spread of heat. Place a piece of foil loosely over the grill and lay the two lobster flesh side down.
Cook until the shell is pink. Serve with lemon and melted butter.
- Gonads on toast.
- Cockroach Of The Sea.
- Caesar Salad: the taste of loneliness.
- Arrivederci Nonna.
- In defense of the Happy Meal.
- Fish Soup, and why the French are annoying.
- Baking turns me into Woody Allen.
- Tuber Magnatum: worth selling a kidney for?
- Off-piste Italian.
- The silliest meal of my life (followed by a good mushroom recipe)
- Summer’s nearly over. Thank God.
- Prozac, Xanax, Chicken Tikka Masala.