If you invite this clawed classic home for dinner, there's no need to dress up -- except, perhaps, to don a bib. Lobster wasn't always considered luxury food. "Fishermen in New England ate lobster because the fish they caught were too valuable at market to consume themselves," says Trevor Corson, author of "The Secret Life of Lobsters" (HarperCollins; 2004). In the early 20th century, however, tourists visiting Maine began buying lobsters from local fishermen to fix for dinner. "This simple meal, which most Mainers found unremarkable," says Corson, "acquired status among urbanites."
A newspaper-covered picnic table at a seaside shack remains a great locale for a lobster dinner, but sadly not a convenient one for those of us who don't live near the North Atlantic, the American lobster's habitat. Luckily, this crustacean is shipped just about everywhere for home cooking. Preparing it requires only the most basic of techniques -- boiling or steaming. This easy meal affords you the pleasure of sitting down with your dinner guests to enjoy the richly flavored meat with its sweet, briny juices.
The home lobster boil begins with a visit to the fish market (or, if you prefer, with a quick search on the Internet for overnight delivery). Purchase lobsters not only live but lively, within a day of when you plan to use them. A 1 1/2-pounder is an ample individual serving. Culls, which are missing one claw, are often less expensive and good for lobster salad.
Store the lobsters, with their claws banded, resting on moist seaweed (if the market can provide some) or damp newspaper in an open bag in the refrigerator until cooking time. Although some aficionados prefer the more intense flavor that comes from steaming, boiling is the most traditional method (see recipes for both below). Plunge the lobsters headfirst into boiling water and, since there's no telltale sign for doneness, turn on the timer.
Set the table with bibs, teeny forks, nutpicks, and nutcrackers. Then get at the succulent meat. Working on the segmented shells with bare hands and sucking every morsel out of every last leg is part of the fun.
Piling the tender meat on a buttered, toasted bun for the classic lobster roll, though, is just as mouthwatering. Whether in the shell or out, lobster will be a welcome indulgence.