Culinary Arts

Chef Thomas Keller’s Tips for Buying Live Lobsters

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 30, 2019 • 2 min read

Whether you’re making lobster rolls, bisque, or a lobster boil for a special occasion, you want to make sure you’re getting the highest quality crustaceans. But lobster isn’t something most of us cook every day, so what should we be looking for?

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The 3 Types of Lobsters You Can Buy

When you’re buying lobster at the grocery store or seafood market (it’s best to shop at a dedicated fish market with high turnover, if you can) you might run into a few different kinds of lobster.

  1. Whole lobsters. Although it’s possible to purchase lobster tails or pulled lobster meat, Chef Keller prefers live, whole lobsters for the freshest flavor. Whole lobsters range in size from jumbo (up to 10 pounds), to 2-pound lobsters, to the 1¼-pound “chicks” Chef Keller prefers.
  2. Hard-shell vs. soft-shell lobsters. Hard-shell lobsters and soft-shell lobsters aren’t different varieties—they’re both American Lobsters (aka Canadian lobsters or Maine lobsters), just at different stages of growth. Soft-shell lobsters are lobsters that have recently shed their old shells to make room for new ones. The shells are thinner, so they’re easier to crack and pick. This species is found in cold waters on the Atlantic coast.
  3. Spiny lobster. Spiny lobsters (aka rock lobsters) are found in warm water on the West Coast of the USA, Mexico, Australia, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. They lack the pronounced pincers of their East Coast relatives, and some say they taste sweeter.

Chef Thomas Keller’s Tips for Purchasing Lobster

  1. Always purchase live lobsters. Look for lobsters that are strong and lively. One way to tell is to hold the lobster’s carapace (the upper shell) and make sure the lobster holds its claws above its head (i.e., claws should not be drooping).
  2. Select lobsters that weigh 1 1/2 pounds or less, such as 1 1⁄4-pound lobsters, also known as “chicks.”
  3. For cooking purposes, the differences between male and female lobsters are negligible, with the main advantage being that the female lobsters have roe, which can be used for making coral oil or as a garnish for dishes. For the Chef Keller’s Lobster Mac and Cheese, both male and female lobsters work equally well.
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Want to Become a Better Chef?

Whether you’re just learning the difference between braising and broiling, or you already know how to sear a duck breast to perfection, mastering cooking techniques takes patience and practice. No one knows this better than Chef Thomas Keller, who has won more Michelin stars than any chef in America. In Chef Keller’s third Masterclass, the founder of The French Laundry and Per Se teaches you the underlying techniques of making great food so you can go beyond the cookbook. Learn how to prepare seafood, perfect sous vide cooking, make classic desserts, and bring Michelin star-quality meals to your kitchen.

Want to learn more about the culinary arts? The MasterClass All-Access Pass provides exclusive video lessons from master chefs including Chef Thomas Keller, Dominique Ansel, Massimo Bottura, Gordon Ramsay, Alice Waters, and more.

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