Grilled lobster with herb butter – a Rowley Leigh recipe

Some people like to claim they do not care for lobsters. “Much prefer a good crab sandwich,” they declare, employing a sort of inverted snobbery to demonstrate their sophistication. There is a sort of vulgarity with lobsters. Ostentatiously displayed and consumed in a restaurant, they can be a show of affluence. Long-boiled lobsters sitting on top of a plateau de fruits de mer – usually “Royale” if it has a half or whole lobster on top – are the ultimate in flash.

Their long sojourn on the ice may have deteriorated the flavor, but they look good. And expensive.

Lobsters should be treated with more care but a little less respect. On Cape Cod they get it right: cooked to order in boiling water and served with drawn butter, chips and salad, they are impeccable, even if the Eastern seaboard lobster does not have the meatiness or flavor of our native blue. Either way, nothing quite matches the sweet flavor of freshly cooked lobster, and most of the more complicated recipes tend to forget that salient fact.

More often than not, I grill them. The roasted shells impart a smoky flavor to the flesh and, as long as you don’t scorch the meat on the grill, the cooking does not overwhelm. If you want a good lobster at home, you will have to handle a live one. Most people are nervous of lobsters since they are moody-looking brutes, but the rubber bands around their claws render them harmless. Killing them with a sharp knife is not difficult or particularly messy (instructions below) and is a quick and humane way of dispatching them.

Serves 2, or 4 as a starter

A platter of grilled lobsters with herb butter

© Andy Sewell

I grill on a flat plate with a Teflon oven screen or mat placed on top. The mat softens the heat a little and nothing sticks to it. If that is not an option, start the lobsters shell-side down in a heavy pan, baste with the butter and finish under a hot grill. The herbs are mutable, with a few substitutions or omissions in order. They should be delicate without being overwhelmingly aniseed.

  1. Make the sauce first. Melt the butter and add the ingredients in turn, softening in the warm butter. Season well with salt and black pepper. Keep warm but not hot on the side of the stove.

  2. Place a lobster on a chopping board, holding the head firmly down on the board. Place the point of a large, heavy cook’s knife on the center of the head and plunge vertically down between the eyes.

  3. Continue by bringing the knife down through the front. Turn the lobster around and repeat the cut the other way, down straight through the tail, separating the lobster in half. Remove the hard stomach sac behind the eyes and the thin intestinal tract that runs along the tail. Do not touch the green tomalley in the head or any red roe that will be present in the female. Crack the claws with the back of the heavy knife. Prepare the second lobster in the same way.

  4. Place the grill mat on the griddle plate. Brush the flesh of the lobster with a little of the butter and season with a pinch of fine salt. Place the lobster flesh-side down on the mat and leave to seal everything in place and lightly color the meat. Turn the lobsters over after a minute or two and cook on the shells, brushing the meat with a little more of the butter. The lobsters will cook very quickly: take them off when you see the heat bubbling up through the shells. The claws may need a minute or two more. Serve the lobsters generously dressed with the butter, along with some new potatoes and a green salad.


Too rich or well-oaked a wine will mask the sweetness of the lobster. Good Chablis, flinty, mineral and very dry, is the best possible thing. The great John Doyle, who knew how to do these things (oysters and lobsters in the main) in his Dingle fish restaurant had 30 white wines on his list, 25 of them being Chablis, from the humblest to the finest. “I just don’t think you can beat Chablis with lobsters,” he opined when I noted his preference and I cannot disagree.

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