The lobster’s revenge

Despite its limited capacity for verbal communication, a lobster recently taught me a valuable lesson.

If I’m honest with myself, I’d have to say the plucky critter would probably rather I’d lived on in ignorance, and he’d survived to pinch another starfish, or whatever they get up to on the seabed. But, considering he died, albeit a far less dignified death than either of us would have liked, I can at least take solace in learning from it, even if he can’t.

It all began with my husband’s birthday and my desire to spoil him without breaking the bank on a meal out. Lobster, of course, is not cheap, but at less than £30, it was still a fraction of what we would have spent in a decent restaurant. Crunch time came at Fishes seafood specialist, on Wardrew Road, just around the corner from me in St Thomas, Exeter, when Patrick asked if I wanted to order my lobster cooked, or alive.

The long arm of the claw.

Now, I’ve long believed that those who eat meat should be prepared to kill for food. I’m not advocating wantonly spearing passing animals to throw on the barbecue, but, if you consume meat, there’s surely no better way to confront the fact that you’re responsible for a life lost than to administer the fatal strike. In this day of plastic wrapping and clean, orderly cuts on supermarket shelves, it’s all too easy to pretend that meat is created that way. So it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to ask for my lobster live.

Patrick asked how I planned to dispatch it and was shocked when I casually responded that I would plunge a knife behind its eyes, a method I’d read was the most instantaneous. “That’s cruel!”, he protested, instead advocating plunging it into a pan of fast-boiling water. “Are you really going to be able to stick a knife in his head, when he’s looking at you, pleading with his lobstery eyes?” He assured me the watery death was instantaneous, and that the screaming sound was just the air escaping from the shell. Even then, I failed to foresee the horrors that lay ahead.

I had been told that the refrigeration unit would render the lobster pretty inert, as he would effectively start to hibernate. But the creature that emerged from the back room at Fishes had a will not just to live, but to conquer the world. His claws snapped so hard that Patrick struggled to get him into the box. “He’s a lively one, alright,” he said. The first look of doubt took hold. “Don’t worry,” Patrick said cheerfully. “If God hadn’t meant us to eat them, he wouldn’t have made them taste so good.”

I picked up the box, and headed past the small child who was cowering behind his mother’s legs. I could feel the lobster wriggling inside his cardboard coffin, and I began to feel vaguely squeamish. It didn’t help that my husband quickly nicknamed him Lenny and took great joy in how easy it was to convince me that he had escaped and was on the rampage.

I had also failed to factor in the fact that we weren’t planning to eat until the following day. I had imagined the lobster would slumber peacefully, perhaps imagining he was in a chilly cave. Not this one. Every time we opened the fridge, we could hear him scraping. The guilt at keeping a live animal so confined kept growing. At one point, I seriously considered letting him roam free in the spare room. I began to develop a creeping terror of the moment of reckoning.

It also occurred to me that Lenny was far bigger than I’d calculated, what with spidery limbs jutting out at irregular angles. Was my largest pot going to be big enough, or would I have to wield the knife after all?

When the time came, I could barely bring myself to approach the fridge. Our birthday dinner was fast becoming more tense horror than romantic feel-good. Sure enough, the size of the box alone confirmed the pot was too small for the kind of clean drop we would need. Even worse, when we gingerly opened the carton, we realised Lenny had been stored upside down. The fact that he had been kept on his back for 24-hours made the whole scenario all the more sickening.

I panicked. I couldn’t bring myself to touch him, never mind turn him over. Before I knew what I was doing, I’d picked up a large knife and plunged it into his upside down shell, roughly where I thought his eyes might be. The lobster contracted, and its limbs went berserk. I screamed and ran, tears streaming down my face as I cowered. It was seconds later when I went back to retrieve the knife.

Poor Lenny. I’d wanted to kill him as quickly and humanely as possible, and instead I’d tortured him. It was too late to release him into the sea now, another option I’d considered. Shaking and tearful, I hit the internet, and soon found that one of the easiest methods is to put the lobster in the freezer for around 90 minutes. We barely dared to go and check it had worked. Even once we had established it had, I had to bribe my husband to wedge him into the pot.

We finally ate shortly before midnight. Lenny was delicious, but in all honesty, I would rather have saved us all the trauma and ordered fish and chips.

And the lesson? Oh, there are many. Even after all this time, I can still be surprised at my own capacity for ineptitude. But, above all, it was to leave the killing to the experts.

That said, the culinary battle has made me think hard about the meat I eat. It’s nowhere near enough to make me turn vegetation, but the ghost of Lenny haunts me whenever I tuck into something that once moved. Lenny, you were a worthy adversary, and you did not die in vain.

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3 Comments on “The lobster’s revenge”

  1. Angie Says:

    I blame the fishmonger. He should have had it taped (the lobster’s claws, that is) as seen on holiday in proper fishmongers where the lobsters are kept alive in a tank, which is another form of human savagery but practical. I’m glad that I don’t particularly like lobster – give me a scallop any day – but, although I never met him, I’m mourning Lenny, so poignant was your tale. Had you had him taped, you could have lobbed him sternly into the pot and convinced yourself that the screaming was escaping air.

  2. Gary_P Says:

    I came across your story, and it reminded me of my Wife’s attempts of cooking our own lobsters. Only we had 4.
    I now order them out or don’t eat them at all. It was a traumatic event. I feel for you… and Lenny.
    (And Angie’s correct, to the last detail).

  3. Jim Says:

    Nice article.

    I’m a cameraman who did a story on lobster fishermen off the coast of Maine, US. The fishermen would pull the traps up and empty the lobsters onto a large table where they measured each to see if they were big enough to keep (when the lobsters where on a table they would back up into a corner with their claws snapping, defensive and seemingly terrified.) Then they would either throw it back or throw it down a hole on the boat that lead to a holding tank. Some of the lobsters were in a grey area size-wise, so the fisherman would make a seemingly arbitrary decision on whether to throw it back or drop it into the hole. Sometimes he would hold the lobster for a second, make a move for the hole, and then change his mind and let it live.

    It was actually sad to watch, and it made me reevaluate my meat eating ways. Don’t get me wrong, I still eat lobster…and cows…and pigs, but I think differently about it now. I also believe that the animal should be kept as comfortable as possible until it’s death. And..maybe one day I’ll be able to put my need to enjoy a good steak or seafood dinner aside, and stop eating innocent animals. Don’t know if I really see that happening though.

    Either way, RIP Lenny.

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