The ultimate guide to lobster

Luxurious lobster can now be found in supermarkets as well as fishmongers, so there’s no better time to get to grips with this clawed crustacean. Read our expert guide to buying, preparing and cooking lobster.

The ultimate guide to lobster

There’s something about lobsters that places them in the higher strata of the fish world, whether it’s their lazily majestic movements, colour-changing shells or succulent flesh. Once the reserve of fancy restaurants and those with well-padded wallets, lobsters are now available at local fishmongers and supermarkets. In fact, in time for Christmas 2014, several budget supermarkets started selling whole frozen lobsters for £6 or under.

The great thing about frozen lobsters is that the slightly grisly process of tackling a live version is bypassed. Plus, if you choose one that has been cooked, you can get straight to work on removing the flesh without having to bother with finding a huge cooking pot to boil it in. If all this still sounds a little ambitious, read on for our cookery team’s tips for preparing and cooking lobster.

How to pick the best lobster

Lobster pre-cookingIf the idea of dealing with a live lobster leaves you cold, buy a fully-cooked whole lobster or lobster tail – you can even buy tails fully picked and dressed. Here, the shells will have turned the bright vermillion colour during cooking – look for one that’s brightly coloured with a tail that’s tightly curled under. This means the lobster was live when it was cooked.

A whole, live lobster will have a dark shell – look for one that smells fresh and is still lively when handled. Test it out by pulling out its tail – it should swiftly retreat back under the body. And beware those powerful pincers – never pick up a lobster whose claws aren't contained by an elastic band. When freely snapping away, they can do some serious damage.

How to prepare live lobster

Lobster going into panIf you opted for a live lobster, our food editor Cassie and senior food editor Barney recommend the chill-and-stab approach – as macabre as this sounds, it’s considered by many to be more ethical than sedating the lobster in the freezer.

Chill the lobster in the fridge for around an hour, then place it on a chopping board covered completely with a tea towel. Stroke the lobster along the back then plunge a large, sharp knife through the back of the lobster’s head in one swift movement. Try to hit the small cross in the shell as this is a weak spot, but if it’s not working, insert a knife sharpener and use a hammer or heavy saucepan to apply more force.

How to cook lobster

Once your lobster is ready for cooking, place it in a large pan of cold, salted water and slowly bring it up to boil. At boiling point, lower the heat and simmer the lobster for 15 minutes for the first 450g. Simmer for a further 10 minutes for each 450g thereafter to a maximum of 40 minutes.        

How to extract the meat from a lobster shell

lobster prepLay out your cooked lobster and firstly twist off the claws. Break them into sections using specialist lobster crackers or a good, solid nutcracker, then pull out the meat – the skill is in keeping the tail meat in one impressive piece.

Twist off the legs, flatten them with the back of a knife then get to work on digging out the flesh using a pick or the end of a teaspoon. To deal with the body, split the lobster in half along its length and separate the two halves. Remove and discard the stomach sac, gills and intestinal thread, although you may want to keep the liver – known as tomalley, it's considered by some to be a delicacy. Any coral-coloured roe can be put aside to use in a concentrated lobster butter. The empty shells can be used to make stock, too, which is ideal to use as a base for bisque or bouillabaisse.

How to serve lobster

The big dip

Lobster thermidorSweet lobster meat and creamy, buttery sauces work together a treat. Serve the lobster hot with melted butter – classic lobster Thermidor is served with a herby, slightly piquant butter made with shallot, tarragon, parsley and spices.

Lobster with Thermidor butter

Alternatively, serve the lobster cold with homemade mayonnaise, béarnaise or hollandaise for dipping. Try flavouring your sauces too - this lobster salad with warm potatoes comes dressed with a truffle-tinged mayo.

Warm lobster & potato salad with truffled mayonnaise

Brunch bunch

Lobster muffinsTry Tom Kerridge’s decadent brunch dish of half a lobster tail on an English muffin, topped with poached eggs and homemade hollandaise – well worth getting out of bed for, we're sure you'll agree. 

Lobster muffins with poached egg, caviar, spinach and hollandaise

Street smart

For a real luxe take on the whole street food scene, try New England-style lobster submarine rolls with spiced mayonnaise, celery, gherkins and – if you really want to keep things real – a pile of crisps on the side.

Lobster rolls

Are you a fan of lobster? Have you ever dealt with a live one? We’d love to hear your experiences and serving suggestions. We have plenty more fish recipe inspiration to explore, too.

Comments, questions and tips

Sign in or create your My Good Food account to join the discussion.
Be the first to comment...We'd love to hear how you got on with this recipe. Did you like it? Would you recommend others give it a try?
Be the first to ask a question about this recipe...Unsure about the cooking time or want to swap an ingredient? Ask us your questions and we’ll try and help you as soon as possible. Or if you want to offer a solution to another user’s question, feel free to get involved...
Be the first to suggest a tip for this recipe...Got your own twist on this recipe? Or do you have suggestions for possible swaps and additions? We’d love to hear your ideas.