How to kill a lobster at home

Illustration for article titled How to kill a lobster at home
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Warning: Today’s Mailbag might not be for everyone. Only proceed if you wish to learn about how to prepare a live crustacean for human consumption.

I promised my wife I’d make her a fancy lobster dinner for our stay-at-home Valentine’s Day, but the thing is I’ve never killed a lobster before, and I really, really, really don’t want to have to kill several of them in my San Francisco apartment-sized kitchen. Can I ask the fish guy at the supermarket to do it for me?

Unfortunately, I’m afraid you’re going to need to let the lobsters live comfortably in your apartment until until it’s time for dinner. Lobsters have potent enzymes hanging out in their digestive tracts, and as soon as they die, those enzymes start oozing out and decomposing all the tasty, tasty meat you paid $26.99 a pound for. Because of where they’re positioned in the thorax, your fishmonger can’t simply knock off your lobster and yank out its digestive organs before they go nuclear. If you really want to cook fresh lobsters at home, it means they’ll have to die by your hand.

You do not want to discover that you’re emotionally incapable of killing a pack of lobsters while they’re wandering around your apartment, so address your psychological relationship to your food before you make any non-refundable grocery purchases. Contrary to popular belief, there is a pretty solid chance that lobsters can feel pain; it’s just that as a human being, you can’t possibly interpret what “pain” truly means to a creature that doesn’t have a centralized brain. Even serious lobster scientists haven’t figured it out yet, so feel free to exploit that loophole if you’re looking to chalk up your sins to moral ambiguity. To kill a lobster humanely its death needs to be instantaneous, so you’re going to need to work swiftly and carry an extremely sharp knife.

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To help to protect you from getting your ass kicked by a bunch of lobsters who are literally in “fight to the death” mode, sedate them with the awesome powers of ice. Lobsters are poikilotherms, which means they can’t regulate their own body temperature; they depend on their surroundings to keep their biological processes running smoothly. As a lobster gets colder its heart rate and metabolism slow, its body grows lethargic, and it eventually “goes to sleep.” Right before you’re ready to cook, stick your lobsters in the freezer or a big pot full of ice water for about 20 minutes, or until the lobsters appear to be completely unconscious. (Do not put your lobsters in the freezer for longer than the time it takes to knock them out, as it will affect the quality of the meat.)

Now it’s time to whip out that extremely sharp knife. Hold your sedated lobster belly-down against a large cutting board, and look for a small “X” on its shell right below the eyes. Put the tip of your knife on the X and quickly thrust it downward. The lobster is now ready to cook. Set the first lobster aside, quickly dispatch its fellow crustaceans, and cook them immediately so their insides don’t have a chance to dissolve. Enjoy your romantic dinner!

Allison Robicelli is a writer, recipe czar, former professional chef, author of four (quite good) books, and The People's Hot Pocket Princess. Tweet me for recipe help: @Robicellis.

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DISCUSSION

Ah. The age old rite of passage of murdering shellfish by your own hands. Seeing as you’re from the far flung foggy coasts of the Pacific I can understand why you may be seeking assistance with this.

A woman from Maine, after several glasses of Sutter home Zinfandel, liberally filigreed with ice, once told me: they will scream. Unless you only place the barest amount of water in the pot and slowly raise/ roll the boil. This tactic will remove the screaming, in the moment, but it appears you’ll need to be well equipped with libations for years afterward to blot out the memories of your failure to deliver a swift coup de grace.