Friday, June 29, 2007

How to kill a live lobster

I haven't prepared lobster since my last chef's job, primarily because I don't like eating it anymore. Like veal (and to a lesser degree lamb) I've lost my taste for it, and haven't eaten it in years.

But as soon as I was able to make decisions about how to cook things on the job on my own I always chose to kill lobsters by killing them with a knife before cooking them or dismembering and shelling them for raw meat preparations (e.g. ravioli or sausage). I never bought that line about how they don't feel pain and blah-blah-blah: maybe it is true, more likely it isn't. I reason that whenever one is unsure of how to kill something the best thing to do is to choose the method that is most likely to render the least pain: dropped live into a pot of boiling water or rendered insensate and dropped into a pot of boiling water?

The method of killing lobster depicted here is the method I used prior to shelling the lobster for raw meat preparations. For boiled lobster, I inserted a knife between the head and the thorax to minimize the loss of "flavor" to the cooking water.

How to kill a live lobster


Don Luis said...

I cook lobster the way I always have: plunge them headfirst into boiling water. I find it hard to believe that lobsters feel pain, and this article in the Guardian seems to back that up.

Alas, I haven't had lobster in years (and I never had them more than about once a year). I had lobsters shipped here (Puerto Rico) from Legal Seafood in Boston for my in-laws anniversary, and it cost a fortune. We have lobster here, but it's the Caribbean kind, and not nearly as tasty.

I agree though that any animal should be killed in a way that is least painful to the animal.

GG Mora said...

I always feel better if I let them play around on the kitchen floor for a while first.

sfchin said...

Personally, I always just plunge right into boiling water as well. Usually I'll chill the lobsters in the fridge or freezer first, because somebody probably once said that numbs them or something. I feel like they don't seem to thrash around or anything when I cook them, and the one time I tried knifing them first, they thrashed like crazy when I "killed" them, then left the boiling water a proteinaceous mess. I probably didn't do it right.

Don Luis, that link is interesting, but I sort of question their conclusions. While it is true that invertebrates have simpler nervous systems than mammals and may not perceive "pain" on the same level as mammals, even the simplest nervous systems have the basic function of aiding an animal in avoiding noxious stimuli (such as boiling water). If you take the Peter Singer approach, any animal's ability to express an aversion to a stimulus gives it a moral interest in not being forced into that stimulus. Thus the question, "Does this animal feel pain?" is moot. The real question is, "Would this animal prefer not to be in this situation?" In the case of us eating them, the answer is invariably yes.

Don Luis said...

sfchin: with all due respect, I disagree.

"Would this animal prefer not to be in this situation?"

We simply have no way of knowing whether or not a lobster is even aware of the situation it's in.

Your point is well taken and well written.

sfchin said...

Don Luis, I believe I made a poor choice of words, for I did not mean to connote that the lobster has any degree of self-awareness and actually engages in a sort of anthropomorphic internal debate regarding its situation (one of the primary and more egregious errors commonly made by animal rights activists).

Rather, any animal with a nervous system and motor ability, when faced with a noxious stimulus, will attempt to avoid it. One cannot prove that "pain" is part of this process any more than one can prove that pain is not a part of it. One can prove, however, that animals try to avoid things that are bad for them. The conclusion, therefore, is that forcing them into things that are bad for them is morally suspect.

Keep in mind that I eat meat, so by defending the animal rights position I am playing devil's advocate. It is a position I irrationally reject, despite the fact that I do not see logical error in its argument. I long for someone to show me a good logical refutation of the position so that I can feel better about myself.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...No lobster, veal or lamb ? I would love a post on how the hell that happened...