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.

Tiny live shrimps, Wimereux, Brittany

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.

8 Responses to “Can you kill your dinner?”

  1. Mopsa Says:

    I have no trouble with this – stick the lobster in the freezer for an hour kills it with no jumping around. I have done the knife thing and watched said dead lobster cavort across the kitchen work surface

  2. gastropunk Says:

    Mopsa, the trouble with the freezer method, as the article says, is the danger of actually freezing the beast prior to cooking, thus ruining the texture and flavour of the flesh. i agree the knife method often leads to a spectacular display of lobster gymnastics, but surely this is just a post-death reflex, headless chicken-style…?

  3. Kinson Says:

    What did you do with the five shrimps that escaped from the drying pan?

    Did you reward their valiant escape with a chearful wave and off they go, or lobbed them back?

  4. gastropunk Says:

    Lobbed back, natch. It was a kinder fate than leave them wriggling around a Red-Indian themed campsite near Calais…

  5. Mopsa Says:

    Lobster gymnastics is fine when there is no-one else in the kitchen. Spectators can be put off this gorgeous grub for life (ditto with chicken/duck/goose dispatching). Folks have been known to come round and find me , hair full of down, plucking away happily and then asking if they are expected to partake in the resulting oven-readiness. And these are NOT vegetarians.

  6. gastropunk Says:

    Mopsa, you’re talking from experience. Aside from shellfish, I’ve never actually seen my dinner dispatched in front of my eyes, let alone done the deed myself, although I’ve gutted and skinned a recently road-killed rabbit. I’d like to think seeing a live poultry execution wouldn’t blunt my appetite for a good roast, but you never know…

  7. Mopsa Says:

    If you can do lobster, which is pretty brutal, an airgun rifle pellet in the back of a hen’s head is not too difficult. But respect is always due to the delicious departed. And thank you for the link to my piece on Foot and Mouth – it has prompted lots of visitors.

  8. amalee issa Says:

    I’ve occasionally wanted to kill my dinner date.


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