Can you kill your dinner?
September 10, 2007
There’s an interesting article about the most humane way to kill a lobster in today’s Gruniad Online.
I’ve tried the ‘boiling from cold water’ method with a very large live crab, thinking the gradually warming water might lull the mighty beast into a painless death-sleep. Alas no, it thrashed around so violently it actually lifted the heavy cast-iron lid off my le creuset pan. I had to pile a number of kitchen appliances on top in order to stop the crabby crustacean escaping and wreaking bloody revenge on my ankles.
A restaurant I used to work in held an annual lobster fest, during which scores of the critters were ritually slaughtered by a knife through the neck, which seemed like a pretty instant, if grizzly, death. While awaiting their fate they were kept in the fridge to make them docile; a pair would occasionally be thawed-out for lobster duels during quiet spells in service. Modest amounts of hard-earned tips were wagered on the outcome of these fights, although generally they showed little interest in either fighting or escaping, appearing more depressed than aggressive. In my experience chefs are pretty hardened/realistic/callous (delete according to point of view) about the welfare of the crustaceans in their care.
I have to admit to having a sharp twinge of guilt when I fried up a plateful of tiny live shrimps in France the other week. Tiny they may have been (too small to even peel as it turned out) but they had a remarkable jump on them. Four or five of them spectacularly leaped out of the frying pan on contact with the hot oil, and I can’t really blame them.
My view on the ethics of cooking live sea-food is, firstly, if you’re going to eat a creature you should be prepared to kill it or watch it be killed and, secondly, you should try and do the ugly deed in the most painless way possible (e.g. not chucking them straight into boiling oil). With lobster, I suspect the old knife in the back of the neck technique might, after all, be the kindest way of despatching them to the Great Rock Pool in the Sky.