Gordon Ramsay Lobster Prep (How to Deshell)


Gordon Ramsay’s lobster demonstrates how to prep a lobster at home, removing every ounce of lobster meat out of the shell, including the delicious claws, legs, knuckles, and head. The guide goes over how to kill your lobster humanely and safely, how to cook lobster, and of course, how to unshell.

If you’re like me, you tend to treat yourself to a great dinner out when you’ve accomplished a goal in your personal life. Often, one of the first things I look for on the menu when I am treating myself to a nice dinner is lobster. With its naturally sweet taste combining perfectly with some drawn butter, lobster can truly be a decadent dining experience but is usually reserved for special occasions.

The price of a lobster dinner at a nice restaurant can easily exceed $100 per person. What if you could have lobster more than a few times a year by skipping the restaurant and making it at home? While shopping for and preparing a lobster may seem above your current cooking skills, this guide will help you become an expert.

Gordon Ramsay Lobster Prep Demonstration

In this guide, Ramsay will cover all lobster preparation parts, from choosing the correct lobster at the market to getting that hard to reach meat out of the shell. The result will have you confidently cooking and enjoying tender, buttery lobster in the comfort of your home kitchen.

Essential Equipment

Before you attempt to cook a lobster at home, you will need to make sure your kitchen contains all the right equipment. Just as a carpenter is only as good as her tools, the same can be said of a chef!

  • Large Stockpot
  • Tongs
  • Instant Thermometer 
  • Skewers
  • Rolling Pin
  • Seafood Scissors

How Does Gordon Ramsay Cook Lobster Tail

Step 1. While the lobsters are chilling, bring 2 gallons of water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Make sure your pot holds at least 3 gallons of water.

Step 2. Add the lobsters (leave the rubber bands on the claws for safety!) and 1/3 cup of salt to the pot. Use tongs to arrange the lobsters to ensure they are all submerged.

Step 3. Cover the pot, leaving the lid slightly ajar, and adjust the heat to maintain a gentle boil

Step 4. Cook the lobsters for 8 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the lobsters to a baking sheet

Step 5. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the underside of the lobster’s tail. The meat should register 140 degrees. If necessary, return the lobster to the pot for an additional 2 minutes or until the tail reaches the desired 140-degree temperature.

Step 6. Serve the lobsters immediately or set them aside until they are cool enough to remove the meat, which should be about 10 minutes. If you do not plan to eat your lobster immediately, you can refrigerate your cooked, cooled lobster meat in an airtight container for as long as 24 hours.

Gordon Ramsay Lobster Meat Extraction

Once cooked, the whole lobster is cooled down to touch by hand, place on a cutting board; now, grasp the tail take one hand, grab the body with the other hand, then twist and separate.

Remove tail meat

There are so many cookbooks that recommend using a knife to cut down the tail center, but I prefer keeping the tail in one piece. I recommend laying the tail on to its side, using both your hands, press down on the tail until you hear it crack.

Holding flippers facing you, shell facing down, now with thumbs on the opposite sides of the tail. Pull back on both sides, crack open the shell to removed tail meat.

Quickly wash the tail meat with running water to remove any green tomalley. Tomalley acts as the liver and pancreas for the lobster. Pat tail meat dry with a paper towel. Finally, remove the green or dark vein from the tail meat center with a small paring knife.

Remove Claw Meat

Twist the “arms” to remove both the claws and the attached knuckles (2 small jointed sections) from the body. Now twist the knuckles to remove them from the claws and break the knuckles into two pieces at the joint using your hands or a lobster cracker. Finally, use the handle of a teaspoon or a skewer to push the meat out of the shell.

Break open the claws using a lobster cracking tool. To do this, first, crack one side, then flip over to crack the other side and remove the meat. An alternative method is to use seafood scissors to cut along the side of the claw.

Take out Knuckle Meat

Break open the knuckles using a lobster cracking tool by cracking one side and then flipping to crack the other side to remove the meat. Like with the claw, you could also use seafood scissors and cut along the knuckle side. Wiggle the smaller hinged part of the knuckle to separate. If there is any meat stuck inside the small part, remove it with a skewer.

End with Legs Meat

Twist legs remove from the body. Remove each leg one leg at a time, place legs flat on the countertop. Use a rolling pin, starting from the claw roll towards the end until pushing all the meat out the legs’ ends. Split open the leg tips that can crack and release pieces of the shell into the meat.

Lobster Anatomy Overview

Molting: 

Lobsters molt about once a year, a process of shedding their skin to grow. You want to be aware of whether or not a lobster is preparing to or just finished, molting as it affects their meat quality.

You want to avoid cooking a lobster just before molting because they lose a lot of muscle mass to slip out of their shell. Conversely, as a lobster finishes molting, it has absorbed a lot of water to fit into its new shell.

That additional water retention makes the lobster meat mushy. To make sure you don’t receive a soft shell lobster in the molting process, squeeze its shell, and it should give slightly to your pressure.

Head: 

A lobster’s nervous system is not centered in its head but instead distributed throughout its body, explaining why a lobster is not killed instantly when a knife is placed through its head.

Claw: 

The front legs of the lobster, also called pincers, contain tender meat for you to enjoy. The larger, meatier claw is called the “crusher,” while the smaller claw is known as the “cutter” and is far thinner.

Tail: 

The tail is the portion of the lobster that most of us eat. At many restaurants, I will order the lobster tail. Lobsters use their tails to escape from predators as they contain large flexor and extensor muscles made for rapid swimming with their fast-acting, short muscle fibers.

Because collagen is more prevalent in muscle, it is no surprise that a lobster tail contains little fat but more collagen than in other crustaceans.

Meat: 

Lobster meat is composed of muscle fibers that are more similar to mammal muscle fibers than white fish. This difference in muscle fiber largely explains the texture between lobster meat and other fish options like sea bass or cod.

Lobster muscle fibers are still much shorter than those inland animals, though they are still longer than those found in whitefish. That difference in muscle fiber length is why lobster meat does not flake when cooked as a white fish does.

Buying Lobster

Don’t be intimidated when picking out a lobster to cook at home. Everyone has a first time experience, and these tips should make your decision making the process a lot easier next time you are shopping for a whole fresh lobster.

How to Choose Live Whole Lobster

Lobsters should be cooked fresh for both flavor and health reasons. When a lobster dies, enzymes in its body begin to break down the flesh and cause it to turn mushy.

While mushy meat does not sound appealing, deceased lobsters also are vulnerable to bacterial contamination that can cause food poisoning. Make sure your lobster is alive when you are ready to cook it, and make the process of death to finished cooking is as quick as possible.

It is for these reasons for both flavor and health that I recommend avoiding pre-packaged lobster meat.

Squeeze Body Check if Hard Shell or Soft Shell

Squeeze the sides of the lobster’s body to determine if it’s a hard shell or softshell. A softshell lobster will yield to pressure, while a hard-shell lobster will be hard and brittle.

Check to See How Much Lobster Weigh

In my recipes, I include the weight of the lobsters since lobsters can vary significantly in weight. If you are serving your lobster with clarified butter, you will want to know how much lobster meat you have to have enough clarified butter for you and your guests.

If you are serving soft-shell lobster, you may consider buying larger ones or buying two lobsters per person if the price is affordable. Markets don’t usually advertise if they are selling hard-shell or soft-shell, but you can always ask an employee in the seafood department.

Cooking Lobster Tips

There’s a lot of information out there on the best way to cook lobster, and unfortunately, much of that information is conflicting. Although cooking methods can vary by recipe, I have found that the following process is the best place to start.

Choose Which Method to Cook Lobster

My first decision is whether to boil, steam, or roast the lobsters. The problem with roasting lobsters is that the oven’s low heat causes proteins in the meat to adhere to the shell making for difficult removal and less flavorful meat.

The steaming lobsters’ issues are that it requires another special piece of equipment (either a steamer or rack) and that the steaming process is prone to leaving the lobster under seasoned. Therefore, boiling in the saltwater was the best choice, but I still had to find a way to prevent the lobster from thrashing in the pot.

Stun Lobster by Freezing Briefly Before Cooking

Unfortunately, there is no way to know the extent to which a lobster suffers during the cooking process, but scientists agree that the lobster’s nervous system is more like that of an insect than a human.

This more insect-like nervous system prevents a lobster from feeling pain in the way a human would. Still, most cooks find putting a live lobster into a pot of boiling water unpleasant, and many cooks advocate anesthetizing lobsters before cooking them. Some chefs believe it is more humane, while other chefs believe that gently handled lobsters are more tender and tastier.

I tried many methods of desensitizing lobsters that ranged from grisly to tough with less than stellar results. Some methods didn’t effectively sedate the lobster. Others didn’t produce better flavor or texture, some were too labor-intensive to recommend, and the worst methods I tried combined all three negatives.

Finally, I settled on a simple approach of 30 minutes in the freezer, which rendered the lobster motionless before placing the lobsters in the pot.

Check Tail Temp, Make Sure Lobster is Done Cooking

Most lobster recipes are accompanied by confusing or intimidating charts that tell you how long to boil your lobster based on factors including weight, whether they are hard shell or soft shell, and how many lobsters you are boiling in the pot.

One of the main issues with this method is what if your lobsters are of different sizes? What if you are unsure about the comparative firmness of the shells?

Why can’t you take the temperature of the lobster-like you do with other meats? I decided to do exactly that and take the guesswork out of cooking lobster. I have found that lobsters are done when the tail’s temperature reaches 140 degrees, which is just slightly higher than the temperature I let white fish reach.

Frequently Asked Questions about Lobster

You can find answers to the most frequently asked questions about lobster.

Can I cook the lobsters in advance?

Yes, you can cook lobsters in advance when you need them as long as the time between cooking and consumption does not exceed 24 hours. Cook your lobsters as you normally would and set them aside for cooling (about 10 minutes). Extract the meat from the shells and store the meat in an airtight containing in your refrigerator for up to 24 hours

Why do lobsters turn red after cooking?

Lobsters are full of fast-twitch muscles, especially in their tails, used only for sudden movements. Fast-twitch muscles contain very little red protein pigment myoglobin (the compound that makes beef or pork red), so lobster’s tail muscles contain minimal color in their raw state.

The reddish color seen in cooked lobster is the result of the denaturation (the process in which proteins lose their structure) of the proteins during the cooking process, which releases the carotenoids allowing them to assume their natural red color. This also happens in lobster’s shells, turning them from brownish-green in live lobsters to bright red when cooked.

I recommend keeping your fingers safe and cooking your lobsters with the rubber bands remaining on the claws.

Why do lobsters need to be alive when you cooking?

Lobsters are cooked alive for reasons related to both flavor and your health. First, the instant a lobster dies, enzymes within its body begin to break down the flesh and cause it to turn mushy.

Second, like other shellfish, deceased lobsters are vulnerable to bacterial contamination, leading to food poisoning. Keep yourself and your loved ones healthy and be sure to cook only live lobsters.

However, high-end restaurants will often kill several lobsters at the beginning of an evening’s dinner service, separate their claws and tails, store them room, and then cook them to order throughout the night. Their lobster meat never gets mushy, even if it’s the last dish to go out that night.

I have found that you can kill a lobster in advance of cooking (by piercing them with a knife through their hard upper shell) as long as you immediately separate the claws and the tail from the body.

If a dead lobster is left to sit intact, the body’s digestive enzymes quickly break down the proteins in the tail, leaving the meat mushy. Lobster meat that is separated from the body immediately will remain tender yet firm.

To conclude, you can always prepare a lobster ahead of time for sauteing or grilling as long as you make sure to separate the tail and claws before storing the lobster.

Should I buy hard-shell or soft-shell lobsters?

The quality of lobster meat largely depends on where the crustacean is in its molting cycle, during which the old, hard shell is replaced with a soft, new one. To determine what stage a lobster is in, squeeze its shell; a soft-shell lobster will give to your pressure.

By late June and into July or August, depending on location, lobsters start to molt, meaning that lobster available in the late summer weeks and in to fall are generally soft-shell lobsters. Soft-shell lobsters have less meaty claws and are more perishable than their hard-shell counterparts.

During the molten stage, the lobster’s muscle fibers grow in length about 14% with each molt, and they increase in width with age. This means that older, larger lobsters tend to be tougher when cooked.

Hard-shell lobsters are meatier, and I prefer them for cooking. The meat from soft-shell lobsters can be just as flavorful, but make sure to cook them slightly less than you would a hard-shell lobster.

Due to their lack of meat, consider buying larger soft-shell lobsters than you would hard shell lobsters. If lobsters are on special or can afford it, you could even buy two soft-shell lobsters per dinner guest.

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John Siracusa

Cooking for me has always been an "art" infused in traditions. My career inspired by Hell’s Kitchen, the West Side of Manhattan which boasts one of N.Y. City’s best independent restaurant communities along with Gordon Ramsay no-nonsense approach towards always being your best.

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