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Steamed Maine Lobster
By Charlie Burke

When we lived in West Newbury, Massachusetts, we visited the nearby Plum
Island Reservation frequently. Plum Island is a beautiful barrier island, with the
southern six miles being an undeveloped wildlife reserve with dunes, sea grass
and beaches rivaling anything on Cape Cod. Now our excursions are far fewer,
but we still try to get there in early September to gather wild beach plums to
make our favorite jelly.

When heading for Plum Island, we always buy lobster from a local lobster pound
(The Lobster Connection in Tilton, New Hampshire), because lobsters are
delivered there daily from Maine and stored in perfect condition in a tank and
filtration system designed by the owner, Mark Conley, who has designed and
installed similar systems for many a Maine pound. After gathering beach plums,
we fire up a portable grill and boil the lobsters in sea water. (See photo below)
Boiling perfectly fresh lobsters in real sea water is my favorite way of cooking
them, and their taste is remarkably better than when boiled with tap water, even
if sea salt is added.

At home, I no longer boil lobster, preferring to steam them in seaweed Mark
provides us free of charge. The meat of a steamed lobster is more tender then that
of boiled lobster, and all the sweet briny nuances of flavor remain in the meat,
undiluted by a large volume of water. It may be my imagination, but it seems to
me that the steamed seaweed also adds flavor. At the very least, the seaweed
provides both a “rack” for the lobster and a covering, so that the steam moves
more slowly around the lobsters. It also is the perfect garnish when you present
the bright red lobsters to your guests.

Steaming takes more time than boiling, but that time is regained because it takes
much less time to bring an inch or two of water to the boil than the large volume
required for boiling. Also, the time required is different for hard shell and soft
shelled lobster. (See table below). The meat of soft shell lobster is every bit as
good as that from hard shell, and their price is lower. Although the yield of meat
is less per pound than from hard shell, one experienced coastal Mainer I met this
summer claims he’s “done the math”, and the yield per dollar is higher from soft
shell lobsters. Knowing lobstermen, I think the difference is minimal, but I never
hesitate to buy the soft shells and usually order a half pound larger than if
selecting hard shells.

Cooking times for steamed lobster*

Name             Chickens        Quarters          Selects           Jumbos

Size                ¾ - 1 lb          1 – 1/14 lb        1 ½ - 2 lb         3 – 5

Time                6 – 8 min        9 – 10 min       10 – 12 min    18 – 25

Choose a pot large enough to easily hold the lobsters with room to spare to allow
the steam to circulate. I always use the stock pot in the photo below, even if
cooking only two lobsters. Add salted water (at least one tablespoon of salt per
quart) and place a rack in the pot or enough sea weed to keep the lobsters above
the water. Cover and bring to a boil. Add lobsters, covering them with additional
sea weed if using. Begin timing when the pot refills with steam. Cooking time for
soft shelled lobsters is approximately ten per shorter than the above times. If the
lobster is cooked before you are ready to serve them, remove the pot from the
heat and uncover it. The lobsters will remain warm but cooking will end once the
steam is released.

August and September are my favorite months to eat lobster because it perfectly
matches the great flavors of fresh local sweet corn, tomatoes and steamed new
potatoes, all of which are at their best in late summer. So, invite friends over, buy
some locally brewed beer, chill some dry white wine and serve lobster with the
best of New England’s summer bounty. If the weather cooperates, this meal is
even better when served outside, picnic style.

*Times given are those suggested by Jasper White in
one of my favorite cook books:
Jasper White’s Cooking
from New England
, Harper and Row, New York, 1989.
Nearly twenty years old, this classic is still in print. =>

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer
Charlie Burke is the vice president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president
of the
NH Farm to Restaurant Connection and helps run
the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  Along with
his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs,
greens and berries at Weather Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
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Steamed Maine Lobster
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