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Lobster tail broiled with just a little melted butter and paprika. (Credit: John Ross)
Lobster tail broiled with just a little melted butter and paprika. (Credit: John Ross)

Having a lobster dinner as Labor Day approaches is a ritual for many North Fork families, including mine. Lobsters make a festive presentation and are messy to eat, making them perfect for the deck or patio.

Lobsters are best when purchased live and cooked right away. Boiling is the easiest method and the traditional New England one, but Long Island has a long tradition of stuffing lobsters with breadcrumbs and baking them.

My recipe that follows is a combination of the two methods with a little sautéeing thrown in. The claws are boiled, then the knuckle meat is removed and added to the stuffing along with the tomalley and coral. The lobster is stuffed and baked, then reassembled to make an attractive presentation. The result is a delicious lobster dish that utilizes all of its parts, makes an attractive presentation and is easy to eat.

We also have lobster tails available at our fish markets for people who do not enjoy dealing with a live lobster. Traditionally they come from the spiny lobsters found in the Southern hemisphere as opposed to the American lobster found in the north Atlantic Ocean. These tails, usually frozen, do not have the rich, delicate taste of a fresh lobster, but still can be very good and sometimes they are available in the fresh form from Canada.

Lobster tails are best broiled after they have been set on top of their shells, piggyback style. I have described how to do this in the following recipe.

Baked Stuffed Lobster

Purchase four 1 1/4-pound live lobsters. Place one of them on a cutting board shell side down. Plunge the tip of a chef’s knife between the tail and the body to sever the spinal cord. Then cut through the head without splitting the lobster in half. Turn the knife and cut through the tail, being careful not to split it in half.

Open the lobster and remove the head sac. Scrape the tomalley and the coral into a bowl and reserve. Cut off the claws and the small feet and set aside.

Repeat with all four lobsters, then open them onto a foil-lined sheet pan and refrigerate.

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and add the lobster claws. Bring them back to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove and break off the arms. Remove the knuckle meat from the joints and refrigerate.

Crack the claws with the back of a chef’s knife but do not remove the meat. Place them on a sheet pan and refrigerate.

For the stuffing, cut 4 slices of fresh white bread into cubes and add them to the bowl of a food processor. Add 2 tablespoons melted butter and pulse about 25 times to form coarse breadcrumbs.

Heat a large sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons butter. Strain the liquid off of the tomalley and coral and add the tomalley and coral to the pan. Cook at medium, stirring, until the coral turns red. Add the breadcrumbs along with 1/2 cup chopped shallots.

Chop the knuckle meat and add to the pan. Season with 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon, 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cook for 5 minutes and remove from the heat.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Stuff the lobsters loosely with the stuffing and brush the tail meat with melted butter. If desired, weigh the tails down with metal weights to prevent curling. Bake them in the oven for about 20 minutes. The meat will become firm and opaque.

During the last 5 minutes of cooking, put the tray of lobster claws in the oven to reheat. Serve with a fluted half lemon and a container of drawn butter.

Broiled Lobster Tails

Purchase four 6- or 8-ounce frozen tails. Defrost them in the refrigerator or under cold running water. Do not defrost completely, making them a little easier to handle.

Place a lobster tail on a cutting board with the shell on top. Put the tip of your chef’s knife through the tail fan and make a cut through the shell and about halfway through the meat. Pick the tail up in your hands and run two fingers along the bottom of the meat, separating it from the membrane at the bottom. Lift the meat without removing it completely and lay it on top of the shell.

Place the tails on a foil-lined sheet pan and brush with melted butter. Sprinkle with paprika and broil for about 5-8 minutes, or until the meat turns opaque.

John Ross