Steaming lobster at home or at a clambake


Steaming lobster

Learning about steaming lobster flown in from Maine is not complicated. For any home-event celebration, steaming lobster is as easy as boiling.

Most gourmet chefs we know at New England restaurants and clubs prefer steaming rather than boiling. Steaming, they contend, is a more gentle cooking process, delivering a more flavorful and tender meal. Exact timing seems less critical when steaming, too. In fact, chefs say it’s hard to overcook when steaming lobster. Steaming lobster a few minutes longer than the suggested cooking time won’t turn the meat to shoe leather, whereas overcooking a boiling lobster sometimes does.

Boiling lobster continues to be a more common process however. Perhaps because boiling recipes include for very specific timing specifications.

Traditional New England Clambakes at the beach, as the Native Americans taught the pilgrims, is a process of steaming lobster.  Dig a hole.  Line with large stones. Set a fire on the rocks for about two hours to get the stones really hot. Remove the fire wood, if any remains, line the rocks with seaweed.  Add, in layers separated with more seaweed, cherrystone clams, baking potatoes, peeled onions, ears of corn, and lots of crustaceans. Cover all with even more seaweed on top. Maybe add a tarp if you have one.  Two hours later, all the food is steamed to perfection.

Steaming lobster from Maine at home on the stove:

Use the largest pot you can find. Pour 2 inches of seawater or fresh water in a pot. If not using seawater, you might add a tablespoon of sea salt or other non-iodized salt to the water. Not necessary; yet, it is something we all do. If you have a rack to lift the seafood above the boiling water use it, if not, don’t worry about it. Bring water to an energetic boil. Place chilled lobsters in the steaming pot, and return the water to a boil as quickly as possible.

When water returns to an energetic boil, cover the pot tightly. Only then, start monitoring the time, as per the chart below. Check for availability of different sized “wild-caught,” true-weight live Maine lobster.

When you remove them from the steaming pot, put them in the sink to let the excess moisture evaporate and cool down a bit; they are still cooking.  Serve immediately.

     Size:                             Cooking time               
1 & 1/4 pound               8  to  10 minutes
1 & 1/2 pound               9  to  11 minutes
2 pounds                     11  to  13 minutes
2 & 1/2 pound             12  to  15 minutes
3 pounds                     14  to  19 minutes
4 pounds                     18  to  22 minutes

They are fully cooked when the raw translucent meat has turned white.  If the shell is bright red and you can easily pull out an antenna, it is probably ready.  If you remove a tail and the meat still looks translucent, return it to the steamer for a minute or two more. We serve with melted butter and lemon wedges. But, there is some wonderful buttery olive oils available, too.  And, some folks, myself included, prefer lobster without butter or oil.  A little salt is all.