The Maine Event: The Ultimate (Easy) Lobster Dinner
For New Year’s Eve or any special occasion, skip the seafood restaurant and celebrate at home with one of America’s favorite entrées: lobster!
So it’s New Year’s Eve…or Valentine’s Day, or Mother’s Day, or a birthday, or (insert special occasion here). If you want to properly celebrate the occasion and impress that special someone, it’s pretty hard to go wrong with a lobster dinner.
In pursuit of happiness and homards (French for “lobsters”), most of us are content to set sail for the local seafood restaurant—particularly a certain chain named after the crustacean and the color it takes on when cooked. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but entertaining at home allows you to enjoy a much more intimate setting while saving on beverage costs and showing that you put forth a little effort. And we do mean a “little” effort, because a lobster dinner can truly be the perfect blend of elegance and simplicity. We’ll teach you how to cook lobster and what to serve with it, and how to create a lobster dinner that’s so easy, you’ll have plenty of time to make merry. But before we get into the dinner courses, here’s the history course:
Lobster: From Detritus to Delicacy
With its firm, meaty texture and sweet, rich flavor, lobster is one of America’s most prized entrées…but it wasn’t always that way. When the first European settlers arrived here, the shores were literally awash in lobsters, sometimes piling up as high as a man’s knee. Native Americans used them as fishing bait—and even fertilizer—and they were so cheap during the colonial era that they were fed to prisoners and slaves. Indentured servants in Massachusetts even took their masters to court, demanding that they not be fed lobster more than twice a week.
When commercial food canning and the railway system were developed in the 1800s, canned lobster became an inexpensive staple in middle America. Soon the crustacean’s reputation as a poor man’s protein source wore off, and it became appreciated by more well-heeled diners in the late 1800s, who began flocking to New England to get a taste of the fresh stuff. Prices rose dramatically, and by World War II lobster had evolved from a nuisance into a beloved delicacy.
Even though lobster is considered a rich food, that reputation comes more from its naturally sweet flavor and the drawn butter with which it’s usually served. In reality, lobster meat has fewer calories than skinless chicken breast, along with the healthful omega-3 fatty acids one would expect from seafood.
How to Cook Lobster…and What Parts to Eat
If you have access to fresh whole lobster, you simply need to know how to boil water. Add a generous amount of salt to it (lobster purists say it should be like sea water), and toss the lobster in while it’s still alive. Needless to say, many people are uncomfortable about this process…as is the lobster.
Once done, the bulk of the meat resides in the tail and the claws, with little bits accessible by determined diners in the tiny legs. Some lobster fanatics like the roe (eggs, or “coral”) and the green tomalley (basically the liver), but many experts advise against eating the latter as it is responsible for filtering out impurities in the water. Approximately one fifth of your lobster will be edible meat; a 20-ounce lobster will yield around 4 oz. of meat.
Many people prefer to simply buy lobster tails. While the argument exists over whether tail or claw meat is better, the claw meat is best used in the production of wonderfully convenient lobster meat; it does not present the single, firm, beautiful piece that is the subject of so many mouth-watering photographs. The tail of the lobster, like the breast of the chicken or the loin of the beef, is simply the best part for presentation, texture, and taste. It is also very simple to cook, and—since it’s not still alive—it’s much easier to handle and to store in the fridge until you’re ready to prepare it.
Since the tail has already been removed from the lobster, exposing its meat, boiling is not the best method for cooking it; a lot of its flavor can escape into the water and the meat can become tough. Broiling lobster tail will give you the best results, preserving the firm texture and rich flavor. This can also be achieved on a gas or charcoal grill if you like the added smoky flavor. Just be sure not to overcook this precious delicacy; it will only take you a few minutes.
What Goes Best with Lobster?
When you splurge on lobster, you don’t want to serve it with huge flavors or a lot of spice that will overwhelm it. Think complement, not compete. Plain drawn butter is traditional for dipping, but this enhanced seafood butter sauce adds a nice amount of zing.
A hearty casserole is a great accompaniment, especially when you can find a gourmet-quality one that you simply need to heat up. (Remember, it won’t take long for the lobster to cook.) Green beans are a great complement, as are broccoli and rice. Southerners love shrimp and grits, so why not try grits with lobster? They’re America’s version of polenta. And while mac ’n’ cheese may seem a little casual for a lobster dinner, there’s a reason why lobster mac ’n’ cheese is a decadent favorite.
To start the meal, serve what they do in Maine: a hearty clam chowder. Or if you want to add a bit more color to the meal, a tomato-based soup provides the perfect contrast. And to bracket the meal with the perfect ending, a dessert with lemon adds a refreshing coda that complements the lingering memory of the rich seafood.
Of course, if you want to raise the ante substantially, double down on the entrée and go the surf-and-turf route by adding a tender filet mignon. Better yet, buy the lobster and steak together and save!
What to Drink with Lobster?
Just as melted butter is a natural with lobster, so is a buttery chardonnay (or a white Burgundy, which is mostly chardonnay). And, of course, you can’t go wrong with Champagne. After all, it’s a celebration…and the bubbly will stand up nicely to a steak if you’re doubling the pleasure. Or, of course, do as a true lobsterman would do and pour a nice, cold beer. In the summer a wheat-based beer like a lemony hefeweizen or a Belgian wit (or its American counterpart, Blue Moon) will do the trick; otherwise, try a hoppy Pilsner.