Ask the Test Kitchen: Lobster tails

Q: What’s the best way to cook lobster tails? How do you butterfly them?

Kathi Tippery,

Macomb Township, Mich.

A: Lobster, once considered food for servants, is now a moderately priced treat. And if you're observing Lent, lobster is a different meatless option.

The way you prepare lobster tails is paramount. What you don’t want is chewy, rubbery and tough lobster tails that need to be drowned in melted butter.

Lobster’s soft flesh, once cooked, should be pristine white, soft and tender. You should be able to eat it with a fork, from the shell or not. The flavor and texture of the lobster tail is somewhere between crab and shrimp and more on the mild side. Lobster’s flavor is uniquely mild, with all the richness in texture.

There are many ways to cook lobster: grill, broil, steam and bake. When I cook a lot of them (I’ve done 50 on several occasions) I cut them almost in half (more on that later) and grill them. When cooking just a few, I broil them.

Before you get started here’s what you need to know.

How to buy

At stores, most lobster tails are sold frozen or previously frozen, if you don’t live anywhere near Maine or warm Atlantic and Gulf waters. So you’ll need to thaw them first. For a quick thaw, submerge them in cold water. Once thawed, I give them a quick brine in a salt/sugar solution. This plumps them up and helps keep them moist for their short cooking time.

How to prepare

To butterfly a lobster tail, cut through the top (along the back); don’t cut into the flesh, stop when you reach the tail fins. Pry the shell open, pushing each side outward as much as you can and loosening it from the flesh. You could stop at this point and steam the lobster in a mixture of boiling water, wine and, if you like salt and pepper. Or you can loosen the flesh on the bottom away from the shell and push it up slightly. During cooking, the flesh will puff up and out of the shell a bit more. This method makes for a nice presentation.

How to cook

If cooking lobster tail whole, steam or grill them. Once the shell turns bright red, they’re done. Take them out or off the heat immediately.

Now, when you cook lobster tails in their shells or butterfly them, you need to work the meat from its shell.

I like to cut the tails in half lengthwise just until you get to the tail fins. You can loosen the meat some from the shell if you like, so you end up with two pieces that are still attached. You can grill or broil the tails, brushing it with a little melted butter during cooking. Once cooked, these make a nice presentation on the plate.

How to flavor

With lobster, simple is best. A brush of melted butter, a squirt of lemon and perhaps a sprinkling of some herbs is all you need. What you don’t want to do is mask its delicate flavor, so go easy on the butter.

Broiled Lobster Tails with Fresh Herb and Chive Glaze

Serves: 2

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

4 lobster tails

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Old Bay seasoning to taste

1/3 cup unsalted butter

1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice

2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro or parsley

1 Tbsp. chopped chives

Using kitchen shears, cut lobster tails in half lengthwise just to the beginning of the tail fins.

Season the flesh side of the tails with salt, pepper and Old Bay. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, place the butter and allow to melt. Add the lime juice, cilantro or parsley and chives. Remove and set aside 2 tablespoons of the butter mixture.

Preheat the broiler to high with the rack set 6 inches away from the heat source. Place the lobster tails, flesh side up on a sheet pan. Brush with the 2 tablespoons of reserved butter.

Place lobster tails under the broiler and broil about 6 to 8 minutes or until flesh is opaque and shells are red. Remove from the broiler and serve with the herb and chive butter on the side.

From and tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen. Nutritonal information not available.