On a whim, I asked my wife to buy us a lobster from the market today. Leiden market is a big and bustling affair, and the fish stalls are excellent: fresh from the day’s catch from Scheveningen, near The Hague, with every sort of fish and shellfish you could want. We often eat lobster in restaurants. Indeed, I have a bit of reputation for ordering it every time I go on a company dinner, where €40 would not be uncommon. At the market, 470g sets you back just €11.
The problem is, lobster needs to be cooked and it needs to be cooked alive, alive-oh. I think everyone is squeamish about their first kill, but I think it hypocrisy of the highest order not to be willing to kill the meat you eat. If you find it too hard to kill, you should go vegetarian. If you enjoy the taste of meat, you should be happy to do your own dirty work.
Theory is great in theory but rarely seems to work out in practice. The lobster stares up at me. “C’mon, you think you can take me on? Gimme a fair fight and take these cuffs off o’ me” It’s true, he’s bound and gagged. It may be that I can get over my squeamishness, but I remain a coward and I’m proud of it. He is very much alive. Vague hopes that he would have popped a couple of suicide pills upon realisation of the inevitability of his demise are dashed when he makes a break for it, clambering off the plate and heading for 4-ft precipice to the kitchen floor.
Looking in my treasure trove of cookery lore for how exactly to kill and prepare him turns up very little. The inaptly named “Complete Cookbook” has no mention. Nothing from Jamie and not a mention from the River Cafe book. The inimitable Mr Slater says in his wonderful Real Cooking “…Under the table there is a box of black and blue lobsters, straitjacketed with green rubber bands. I feel sorry for them and look away”. That’s it. Luckily, there is an encyclopedia of possibilities in my Good Housekeeping tome: a) soak in vigourously boiled, water for 30 minutes to make unconscious b) dunk screaming head-first into boiling water c) plunge a cleaver into the cross-shaped mark behind his head with one sharp blow. Obviously Darwinism is alive and well (and possibly evolving as we speak) because lobsters with cross-shaped marks behind their heads are about as common as deer with bulleyes on the backs.
So I choose the coward’s way out and decide to drown the poor wretch. The question is: what is so special about boiled cold water, that it will render a water-dwelling animal inert? Or is this actually merely a devious plan to render an overly-pensive potential lobster-murderer inert?
In the mean time, my son has been petting and stroking the lobster and they are suddenly old friends. Lobsters should not be eaten, he declares, they make good pets. Indeed we should take the cuddly crustacean back to the sea and release it into freedom once again.
I perservere against feelings of guilt and plenty of persuasive points from my progeny and the business at hand is short and easily completed. Lobster in, leave for a half hour, boil for a few minutes (silently), crack him open and feast on the sweet flesh.