BEFORE YOU BUY
Go for Flap-Happy
To ensure you're getting a fresh lobster, ask the fishmonger to lift it out of the water. It should flap its tail energetically. If not, it may have been sitting idle for a while. Another warning sign: short antennas, which may mean one of the other lobsters had time to eat them off in the tank! Buy them from a store with fast turnover.
Lobsters over 2 pounds will not be as sweet and tend to have tougher meat than their smaller mates. You'll get the best flavor from one that measures between 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 pounds.
SHELL A LOBSTER
1. Grab a cooked lobster with one hand on the body and one on the tail, then twist to separate them.
2. To remove the tail meat without any cutting or prying, tear off one of the centermost fins from the end of the tail, then push your finger through the hole to force the meat out the other side. Once the meat is out, remove and discard any dark shoots or deposits.
3. Break off the claws and open them, one segment at a time, with a sturdy cracker. Don't forget the knuckles! Separate them from the other leg joints and dig out the meat with a pick.
4. Move on to the little legs. The easiest way: Hold one end and place the cracked open end in your mouth. Clamping down on it with your teeth, slowly munch, munch, munch the meat and juices into your mouth (like squeezing a tube of toothpaste).
5. Remove the red shell from the main body. There are little pockets of meat in there, and there may be the (green) tamale or (bright red) eggs. Taste it all, or not -- just don't waste! Save the bodies in the freezer and use them later to flavor stocks (remove them at the end) or soups (puree the entire thing, minus the tamale and eggs, in a food processor with a little water and add to thicken bisques).
SECRETS FROM A PRO
Toss some bay leaves, garlic, half an onion, a good shake of sea salt and black peppercorns into 1 inch of boiling water. Add the lobster and remove when the shells are red and the water is frothy and smells like the ocean (6 to 8 minutes).
MORE LIKE THIS