I hate the idea of chefs ruining a perfect lobster and it happens more than you think. Yesterday, I was offered a female lobster, molted skin with a soft shell. Think about it, no need for any “shell cracker” and you use your hands to break it or it softens in between your teeth.
Since the typical lobster shell is hard and inelastic, it must be shed periodically in order for the animal to grow. The act of escaping from the old shell is known as ecdysis, from the Greek, commonly known as molting or shedding, pronounced ek-day-ses.
For lobsters, molting is a continual process because lobsters show indeterminate growth; that is, they grow throughout their lives and therefore spend much of their time either preparing for or recovering from ecdysis.
Back to the chef’s lobster: the idea of grilling lobster is nonsense, the heat burns the shell and for many summer chefs, they think it’s the easiest way to get the job done. The problem is, the heat intensity at the bottom-side of the grill creates a boiling effect, and the waters from the lobster evaporate from the top, hence a dry lobster and even burned.
I take the live lobster and kill it with a sudden knife to the cranial between the eyes at the topside of the head. I then separate the head from the body completely by using a knife. The body is removed carefully to detach the body without any damage to the meat.
Considering they cook differently, I take the tail (whole) heat some oil in a skillet adding the lobster to the skillet and cover it, while I move the pan in motion. Alternatively you can skewer the lobster tail so when it is cooked, it stays long and flat.
After one minute, I remove the tail and open it into two, and remove the central vein. I try not to split the shell completely, as I want to protect the soft white meat from the bottom of the pan; avoid any pan contact with the white meat.
I then add the tail back to the pan, add some liquid (white wine) and if needed fresh garlic and cover until cooked. You can add the head after it is opened and ready for cooking.
This technique uses conduction at first and convection in the second stage. The conduction is the heat transfer in the pan through molecular contact, as molecules moving faster hit molecules traveling more slowly and transfer some of their energy, causing the slower ones to speed up.
The convection is through fluid motion, while liquids and or the gases that are hotter and less dense rise and cooler ones sink, distributing heat much more efficiently than would occur through conduction only.
The key: first kill the lobster by placing the knife through the brain and the cranial and then remove the tail and split the head in two. Do not over cook the lobster and once it is split, you can cover with a medium heat, and not a high heat. Do not overcook it and make sure you add some liquid for convection heat.
The key is to get a good coloration of the shell and during cooking it gets a brightly colored orange or red (depending on the species) which has to do biochemicals inside the shellfish reacting to the heat.
Lobsters have a pigment called astaxanthin in their shells in the tight embrace of a protein called crustacyanin. The protein holds the pigment so tight, in fact its light-absorption properties are changed giving off a blue-green color.
These biochemical get separated when a lobster is cooked as crustacyanin is not heat-stable, so introducing heat relaxes its bonds with astaxanthin, unravel and lets the pigment’s true bold red color shine through.