Cooking lobsters on the barbecue is my idea of fun. It is an expensive kind of fun in Britain: our native lobsters are in peak season now, but still far from cheap. On the eastern seaboard of North America lobsters are plentiful and relatively inexpensive. The harder-shelled European lobsters are generally considered superior – having a richer flavour and more developed muscle texture than their American counterparts – but I have enjoyed both in almost equal measure. What the North American lacks in depth of flavour is compensated for by sweetness.
There is another crucial difference. The European takes a while longer to cook, and its harder shell stands up especially well to the barbecue. It is almost as though its high price demanded greater protection. It is certainly the case that too strong a fire will burn through the soft shell of the American lobster if not enough care is exercised. There is no real need, of course, to barbecue lobsters at all. Those of you who seek an easy life will simply drop your lobster into boiling water for between five and 10 minutes, depending on their size, and devour it a few minutes later with wedges of lemon and some “drawn” or melted butter. On you will be cast no shame and much appreciation of your simple generosity. I should warn you that if you commit this elementary piece of gastronomy in the province of Emilia Romagna, where it is deemed that the lobster must be dead before it is committed to boiling water, you will be subject to a fine of €465. Killing the lobster is best achieved by placing it in the freezer and then stabbing it through the head.
However, I do urge you to try grilling a lobster just once. The sight of it slowly turning a shade of vermillion over the hot coals, with the juices bubbling slightly in the carapace, is an intoxicating one. This is more than mere theatricality, since the flavour that the gentle smoke imparts to the meat through the shell is also rather special. The only problem with grilling lobsters is the slight technical problem that the coral and tomalley simply fall out if inverted on to a grill. It is necessary to prevent this happening by the simple ruse of sealing the inside surface of the lobster before grilling: this can be done on a plancha, or on an oiled sheet of greaseproof paper or buttered foil on a grill plate, or simply in a large non-stick frying pan. Once the bits are sealed off, they will stay intact when exposed to the less tender mercies of the barbecue.
Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais
Grilled lobster with a Thai dressing
It will need a degree of steely determination to execute the lobsters, requiring as it does that a large knife be inserted firmly through the head: however, be assured that this is a speedy and humane method.
6 ripe plum tomatoes
1 large shallot
½ tsp chilli flakes
l tsp sea salt
15g palm sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 bunch fresh coriander
4 lobsters weighing 500g-700g each
Remove tomato cores and drop the tomatoes in boiling water for 15 seconds. Rinse under cold water. Remove the skins, cut in half and remove the seeds. Chop the flesh into little dice and place in a large bowl. Peel and chop the shallot finely and add to the tomatoes with the chilli flakes and salt. Finely grate the zest of the limes, add to the mix, then add the juice of both limes and lemon. Add the grated palm sugar and the fish sauce and leave to macerate for an hour. Pick and wash the coriander leaves.
Place the lobsters in the freezer for 15 minutes. Insert a large knife into the middle of the head between the two claws, pushing down hard, then reversing the direction, in effect slicing the body in two. Cut off the claws and crack with a sharp knife, just enough to cause a crack along the shell. Cut off the legs and remove the membrane inside the head.
Brush the tails with a little cooking oil and place them face down on a flat, hot surface (a plancha or non-stick frying pan) to seal the inside. When the lobsters are ready and you have a good glowing fire on the barbecue, place them flesh side down on the grill, about a foot above the fire. Place the claws around them. Leave for a couple of minutes before turning. Let them cook slowly with the shells exposed to the flame until they turn brilliant red and you can see juices bubbling. Transfer to a serving dish.
Chop the coriander coarsely and mix into the tomato sauce. Spoon over the lobsters and serve immediately.