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Cooking Lobsters With Water Grill's David LeFevre + How To Boil One Alive, Properly

Lobsters come with their own iconography. Think Woody Allen chasing one around a kitchen in Annie Hall. Or, more recently, a squeamish Amy Adams in Julie & Julia. Sure, you boil them alive, but that's the way it's done, and they don't have any feelings anyway. Didn't Cobain write a song about that? Fish, lobsters, whatever.

In any event, Water Grill's David LeFevre doesn't have any hang-ups about cooking lobsters. (Although a chef who ran a Michelin-starred seafood restaurant and did would be a kind of funny premise.) LeFevre, who has been executive chef at downtown's Water Grill since 2004, serves lobsters as part of the restaurant's Sunday Clam Bake menu, which features a traditional New England boiled lobster with lemon and drawn butter. Which is worth it for many reasons, not the least being that Water Grill's perfectly trained wait staff pin a beautifully white bib around your neck before you tuck in.

lobster at the Water Grill
lobster at the Water Grill
A. Scattergood

Squid Ink: Did you fish a lot as a kid, or have an epiphanic moment outside a Red Lobster?

DL: No, I fished a few times as a kid, but mostly we went crabbing. We lived on the Chesapeake Bay and we had two crab pots we could throw out. Also, in Wisconsin I'd take summer trips and we'd go rock bass fishing. And fishing for muskie, though we never caught one. They're huge, like 5 foot. The lures are bigger than most fish that you catch. I used to wear this hockey jersey so I wouldn't get pricked by the dorsal fins.

SI: People are very intimidated by cooking lobster. Why do you think that is?

DL: Well yeah, it's alive. For most people that's disturbing. Not many people have interaction with live seafood--or live any food. Julie Powell? Can you imagine that character if she had to deal with a live duck in that scene? Lobster is probably one of the easiest animals to work with live: the claws are rubber-banded and they're relatively immobile outside of the water. They might move around a little, but it's not like a duck or a chicken. They don't make any noise. They're not very messy. They're not bloody. Whenever we have a new apprentice, we have them cook and clean an animal. Then they understand that it's not just 20 bucks for lobster meat, it's a live animal. When they overcook a lobster, they disrespect a live creative. It's different than oh, I overcooked a chicken breast.

SI: Why is it so difficult to cook a lobster? You can do it awfully well, but a lot of other people don't seem to.

DL: I think sometimes the simplest things are the most difficult. I personally don't think it's difficult, but I've been doing it for 16 years. Most people overcook lobster.

SI: How about spiny lobster? (The season for which begins in 2 days, on October 7th) Is it cooked differently?

DL: Not that much. The tails are bigger than Maine lobster. Some people grill them; sashimi is really good too. Spiny is great, but for me, Maine lobster is sweeter.

SI: Do you think lobsters suffer? Should we care?

DL: I can't say; I'm not a lobster. But I can say that if they could speak they may have something to say about it. If they did have something to say about it, hopefully it would be 'drown me in butter'.

SI: Have any lobsters at Water Grill ever escaped?

DL: No, we've got them pretty much under check. Of course they could be in there right now mounting an escape, but I don't think so.

How to Cook the Perfect Lobster

Note: From chef David LeFevre of Water Grill.

Choosing a lobster:

Cooking a great lobster starts with selection. Pick the liveliest and strongest lobster possible. Look for active lobsters sitting in the corner of a live tank. When removed from a tank, a lobster should be able to hold its arms up and the tail should not separate from the body.

Storage:

Lobsters can be placed in refrigeration for up to 24 hours. To do so, cover the lobster with a wet towel or newspaper and keep away from direct air circulation.

Cooking:

Choose a cooking method. Lobsters can be boiled, steamed or grilled. At Water Grill, they boil the whole lobsters for the Sunday Clam Bake in a large pot of Court Bouillon (water, white wine, lemon juice, onion, celery, garlic, black peppercorn, fresh thyme and bay leaf) to enhance the flavor.

1 lobster (1.25 - 2 lbs.)

4 tablespoon sea salt

1. To boil, fill a large stock pot with enough water to cover the entire lobster and add four tablespoons of sea salt. Put a lid on the pot and heat until the water comes to a boil.

2. Hold the lobster by the back and add it to the water head-first. When the water returns to a boil, cook the lobster for 8-11 minutes, according to the weight below. If your lobster is larger than two pounds, add one minute for every quarter pound. Use this time table:

1.25 lbs -- 8 minutes

1.5 lbs -- 9 minutes

1.75 lbs -- 10 minutes

2 lbs -- 11 minutes

3. Be careful not to overcook your lobster; it will make the meat rubbery. Lobsters are fully cooked when the shell is a bright red and the meat is white, not opaque.

Remove the lobster from the water and serve with drawn butter.