Illustration: Emi Tolibas

Eating lobster is a messy, labor-intensive, grotesque affair, one that involves the dismantling of exoskeleton in order to consume its scant meat. Unlike other animals we eat without a second thought, questions of morality come into play with lobsters—namely, whether these creatures are sentient enough to feel pain when they’re dropped into boiling water alive. And oh—have we mentioned these Mesozoic-era monsters are frightening as fuck? They are the closest analog to human’s notion of an alien creature, everything on their bodies is sharp, and if not for rubber bands to restrain its claws, lobsters will happily snap your fingers off. Still! Much lobster will be consumed on this, the most amorous of days, and somehow it’s achieved the status as the paragon of romantic dinners.

The topic of lobster came up during a discussion amongst The Takeout staff recently. Turns out, the three of us had all attempted to cook lobster at home. Our conclusions were the same: cooking lobster is a horrible idea, there’s nothing romantic about it, and only serves to stroke our culinary egos. Allow us to share with you our lobster cautionary tales.


The worst Christmas gift ever

My parents thought it was a great idea: A seafood feast for four, shipped alive in a box to our front steps. Everything about this Christmas present was a nightmare. So many things went wrong that I’m inclined to present my grievances in the angriest of all punctuations, bullet points:

  • When the time came to claim our gift certificate, we were surprised and a little pissed to discover we owed a $40 shipping charge—the equivalent of sitting through a 90-minute timeshare presentation to score our resort vouchers.
  • The gift box arrived two days later, and contained four live lobsters, five pounds of mussels, and a gargantuan tub of clam chowder. This was shipped to my dear wife’s office, and she was frightened out of her gourd when she began hearing light tapping from inside the box.
  • No friends seem interested in attending a home-cooked lobster dinner. They produced all sorts of excuses—frankly the type we’d likely come up with if shoe-other-foot—“Oh, I’m too scared of the animal,” “oh, I don’t feel right killing my dinner,” “oh, I’ve got a soup kitchen to volunteer at that night.” In the end, after much teeth-pulling, we convinced two brave souls to attend our $200-value seafood fantasy.
  • These horrifying demons—already halfway to death from water deprivation—came out of the box wriggling in agony, surely wanting us humans to grant them its eternal mercy. Finding the exact way of killing it required 10 minutes of Google research—which again, should not ever be a prerequisite for receiving a Christmas present. Since no one wanted to stab a chef’s knife through all four of its brains, we decided to cover it with damp paper towels and chill in the freezer for 20 minutes, before dropping it in boiling water. Because I’m a total pussy, and my wife less so (but still repulsed by the idea), it was one of our dinner guest who ultimately agreed to the mercy killings.
  • The third most horrifying part was the smell that stunk our entire house up like a dirty wharf, the type of nauseating heady aroma that burrows deep into your sinuses. The second most horrifying part was what was left in the pot after the lobsters were cooked. It was the liquid that these creatures secreted, a nightmarish white-gray sea foam with bits and specks of Lord-knows-what. This also smelled macabre. But the most horrifying part was when we started eating, which should’ve been the pleasurable part of our Christmas gift. You envision this pristine, gleaming, perfect lobster tail, its pearly white flesh extracted in one piece, to which we dip into drawn butter. No. This was like ripping apart a cicada. There was much gunk, roe, and organ, ranging in color from army green to mustard yellow to pure black. We were served dinner as delivered by the devil himself.
  • A week later, while cleaning out our sink disposal, my wife pulled out a five-inch-long antennae from the drain. She nearly threw up. [Kevin Pang]

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Photo: twity1/Getty Images

Getting used to the murdering

My husband is much more adventurous in the kitchen than I am, so for this year’s Christmas dinner (we host about 20), he suggested lobster bisque as a first course. I thought that sounded great, but expensive, and assumed we’d pick up some lobster tails from a fish vendor or Costco or similar. But somehow the traditional recipe Brian picked involved using the entire lobster, which necessitated purchasing several crustaceans that would not live to see another Christmas.

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Fortunately or unfortunately, it was super-cold on Christmas Eve, so the lobsters were put outside to narcoticize them; then they just staggered around the dining room table where we would be having dinner the next night. One was even dead already. I actually hid in the bedroom with the laundry while my husband and the kids performed the ritual killings. He had researched the most humane way to do this, which involves stabbing them through the brain. The first one twitched slightly as he said goodbye to the world, but once Brian got used to the murdering, things went relatively smoothly. It probably wouldn’t even have been that traumatic if the kids hadn’t given the lobsters names: Lobby, Hulk, Bob, Bob Jr., Bob Sr., Dolly, and Blue.

I must admit that the resulting bisque was indeed delicious and wowed our guests the next day. But mass murder was a horrible way to kick off the holiday. Maybe Brian has learned his lesson: Tonight he’s making Lego Batman’s favorite dish for dinner: lobster thermidor. Fortunately, he says, for that we only need the tail. [Gwen Ihnat]

Photo: Dave Fimbres Photography/Getty Images

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Here lies Pinchy

Years ago, I was dating an ambitious and capable home cook. Together we’d steamed whole fish in parchment paper, seared perfect scallops, conquered homemade gnocchi, etc. But lobster! We were not prepared for lobster.

One evening, I biked to his apartment expecting us to prepare a chilled lobster salad with tarragon. It was a special occasion—an anniversary, I think—and I harbored cliched visions of us cooking to candlelight and soft jazz. I’d play the Jeffrey to his Ina Garten, selecting an effervescent vinho verde for us to sip while we assembled the salad and hummed to Esperanza Spalding.

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When I walked through his front door, he told me the lobster was in his bathtub. The lobster’s name was Pinchy.

We had not discussed the possibility of live lobster, nor had I imagined the lobster would be waiting in a bathtub. Pinchy was already dead, my then-boyfriend said, or at least he thought so. Could we still eat it? I panicked and ran to the bathroom. The lobster was indeed in the bathtub, looking healthy and reddish and somehow more dinosaur-like than I’d expected. Was it dead? Sleeping? Should I poke it? Don’t poke it, I thought.

Then-boyfriend explained that he’d impulsively bought a live lobster earlier in the day—he was the type to impulsive buy a live lobster—and tried to keep it alive in a bathtub until I arrived. Then, he planned to steam it dead in a dramatic stovetop tableau that I was supposed to interpret as romantic. Instead, Pinchy had croaked. Here lies Pinchy.

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I tried to Google information on how long a lobster could be dead before it became unsafe to eat, but got conflicting information. We were only in our mid-20s, which is to say the lobster probably cost as much as a week’s rent, and I am the type to desperately salvage situations that are best left alone, so we boiled the lobster and made the salad as planned.

Neither of us fell ill, but neither of us enjoyed the salad to its full potential. Poor Pinchy, I’d think, bringing the fork to my lips. I wonder if I’m going to get food poisoning, I’d think, going in for another bite. We made the recipe again months later, but used lump peeky-toe crab instead. All the most romantic seafoods, I learned, come in a can. [Kate Bernot]