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French Food & Wine

BBQ Lobster with Piment d’Espelette & Armagnac Recipe

Olivier Karfis By Olivier Karfis on September 21, 2010

Having lived 18 years in the Boston area, I’ve had my share of boiled lobsters with clarified butter… Let me give you a French way to cook lobster at home that will have your “papilles gustatives” (taste buds) singing “la Marseillaise”!

Before we start, let me warn you that if you are not willing to kill your own food – which I understand – then you better move along and go to Legal Seafood to enjoy your meal.

Unfortunately, making lobster at home means buying live lobsters (des homards vivants). I’ll show you the most humane way of killing it but you still have to pull the plug yourself!

1 – Ingredients For Lobster with Piment d’Espelette & Armagnac:

  1. A barbecue – (un barbecue pronounce it the English way)
  2. One or 2 large live lobster ((un  homard – the H of homard is the kind of H that prevents any liaison or elision, the final d is silent – so “un omar” in French).
  3. du Piment d’Espelette (see below)
  4. du poivre
  5. du sel
  6. de la crème fraîche (you can get some at Trader Joes)
  7. de l’Armagnac
  8. Fresh chives (optional – de la ciboulette fraîche)
Our visiting American friend Kane holding the two "Homards bretons": note how blue they are

Our visiting American friend Kane holding the two “Homards bretons”: note how blue they are

2 – How To “Humanely” Kill a Lobster

Low Intermediates & Above

Mastering French Adjectives

Contrary to popular belief, putting a lobster down into a pot of boiling water (une marmite d’eau bouillante) is not the most humane way of killing it – it is fast, but it does feel the boiling water…

To cook it on the grill, we are going to need to split the lobster in two lengthwise, and in order to kill it instantly, this is what you should do (video of this process – warning contains graphic lobster footage):

  1. Put the lobster on a cutting board (une planche à découper) facing you.
  2. Push on the tail/body with a towel (un torchon) so as to completely immobilize it.
  3. You will see on its head, a cross pattern (one line going the length of the head, the other one going across). You will want to put the point of your chefs knife (don’t use a butter knife for this!) right where the line crosses and keep it towards you.
  4.  Make sure both the lobster and the knife point are not slipping, take a big breath, and in one motion, plunge the knife all the way down to the board and then rotate it down so as to split the head lengthwise in one swoop motion. This will severe the lobster’s nerve system and kill it faster than any other method.
    Rest assured that any residual movement (there will be a lot of this, and for some time, if your lobster is very fresh) will only be muscle spasms and do not reflect “pain”.
  5. Rotate your lobster and proceed to cut along the body and the tail until both halves are separated. Clean however much you want of the insides (I tend to remove anything green or black, things that more hard core lobsters aficionados will consider to be the ‘best part”), proceed to your own taste.


3 – Seasoning Your Lobster with Piment d’Espelette & Armagnac

Extremely basic: du sel, du poivre, and a pinch (une pincée) of Piment d’Espelette – C’est tout!
Piment d’Espelette is a specialty of the Basque region and has a tiny kick but mostly wonderful aromas that really bring out the flavor of the lobster meat (feel free to shout “Bam!” as you put the spice on).
You can find Piment d’Espelette in most high end spice shops or here on In the worst case, you might try to substitute it with a high quality paprika but the effect won’t be the same…

4 – Cooking Your Lobster with Piment d’Espelette & Armagnac

Put the 2 halves of the lobster shell down on a medium grill. Leave for about 6-8 minutes and then wet the whole lobster with Armagnac (be careful of the flambée effect as you do this).
Then, 1 minute before it’s done cooking, put a dollop (une grosse cuillerée)  or two of Crème fraîche mixed with chopped chives into the head cavity of the lobster.
The lobsters are cooked once all the shell has turned pink and it should take about 10 or so minutes depending on the size. Serve immediately.

5 – Sides to Serve With Your Lobster with Piment d’Espelette & Armagnac

Last time I served this lobster, I made a simple risotto with a little bit of pancetta and lima beans (des fèves). That was the perfect match since it kept the lobster as “the star” and I would strongly recommend it (although you can never go wrong with a baked potato either).

Serve on a large platter (un grand plat) and make sure that you supply some large (preferably paper) napkins (des serviettes en papier), it can get messy!

Bon Ap! (Common way to say bon appétit among friends)

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Since I love to cook, I’ve posted many recipes on French Today, but since you like lobster, you may also be interested in:

  1. How to open scallops: tips and video
  2. Scallops with foie-gras
  3. Scallops with truffles

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