Popcorn Lobster Legs

October 2005

338 legs!

Part 1

Raise your hand if you end up tossing most of your lobster legs in the trash -- before or after cooking your bugs. Ok, you can put your hand down now.

I don't mean to assume, but if you're like I used to be, you probably don't spend time bothering to eat the legs. They're a pain to crack open, and you end up eating (or spitting out) lots of shell. The sad reality for me is: 8 legs per lobster x 7 lobsters per limit x a bunch of limits per year x 25 years = about a billion wasted lobster legs ending up in land fills.

Assuming about 1/2 oz of meat per leg on average, the photo of my son with 42 lobsters would yield 8x42x.5= about 10 pounds of lobster meat. Some of the bigger bugs in that photo had 2+ oz of meat in each leg.

Ok; what if I told you there's a way to extrude the entire meat of each leg -- without cracking, or even touching the leg itself? Sound interesting?


Part 2

Flash back a couple years. A typical day of winter bug diving. Free diving in the day, enjoying the company of friends and family. With 4 guys on the boat and bugs crawling around all over the deck, the inevitable "lost" legs start showing up. Being a bit of a neat freak on the boat, I'm constantly picking up and tossing over pieces of eel grass and a lobster leg here and there. At one point during this picturesque day at the islands I notice my son holding a lobster leg which he's adopted as his new play toy. He ends up carrying the darn thing around for hours, until something happens that changes everything...

Before I get to that, don't you sometimes wonder how great things get discovered? For example, what must it have been like for the first person who watched dry, hard, corn kernels explode into something that we now all take for granted as the perfect accompaniment to watching a good movie. Call it deviant behavior, call it experimentation, it's really all about convincing yourself (or in this case your parent) that something which sounds totally absurd is worth trying.


Part 3

First let me say thank you for sticking with me on this. I'm actually somewhat impressed that no one has ever done this before -- at least it seems that way. I guess advancements in technology or (in this case) cooking methods comes in giant leaps with long periods of quiet between. That seems to be the case here.

In this case it was a combination of modern day technologies (on the boat no less) and a stubborn 8-year old that caused the giant leap forward possible. I'm as excited to tell you about this as I know some of you are to hear it.


Part 4 (final)

"Dad, can I put this lobster leg in the microwave?" (Yes, we have a microwave on the boat.) "No!" "Please dad?" "No, and don't ask again!" Of course after 5 min of begging (I guess I cave pretty quickly), I finally said "sure, why not."

With such a build-up to this story, you can probably guess what happened next...

After 20 seconds in the microwave..."pop". Ok, you know how it is when your microwave makes a sound it's not supposed to make. You open it with dread and expect the worst. Well to our complete surprise, we simply found the lobster leg -- unbroken -- and the meat from the leg sitting right next to it -- completely cooked and ready to eat!

Friggin amazing! We looked at each other -- me with a confused, somewhat shocked look on my face -- my son grinning ear to ear! "Let's do it again dad!". I figured it was some kind of fluke, so I agreed. 20 seconds later..."pop". Needless to say, many of our lobsters came home without all their legs that day. My son called it "popcorn lobster legs". I called it "delicious!".

Maybe one of you is a trained physics scientist and can explain it better than I. After popping hundreds of legs over the past year and a half, I can tell you what I think is going on. One end of the leg is closed (the pointy part), and except for the part that's broken off the body, the rest of the leg is air-tight. The microwaves heat up the moisture in the leg (really fast) and the air in that moisture expands (really fast) causing pressure. With only one way out, the thing hisses for a moment, then "boom" the leg meat pops out clean as a whistle. It's the coolest thing! You can blow on it for a couple seconds, then pop it in your mouth. Or, pop a bunch and make a salad.

It's not perfect. Some legs will be duds. The key seems to be that the opening (where the leg once attached to the shell) needs to be small. If you break the leg off wrong, it tends to leave a bigger opening at the end of the leg and it won't pop out. The legs that come off easily -- like the ones you find in your bag, or on the deck of the boat -- came off somewhat naturally (lobsters "give up" their legs easily as a defense mechanism). These are the most successful. You can remove them by hand, but if you rip out the meat from within the body they probably won't pop. Bottom line, try a few (one at a time) until you see success. It really doesn't take more than 30 sec -- 90% of the time it's 20 sec for me. And, of course, you don't need to do this on the boat. I simply remove all the legs when I'm home cleaning up and put them in a ziploc for popping over the next several days (haven't tried freezing yet).

If done correctly, this is a great way to get more out of your limit of bugs. Try it, you'll be amazed!

A very special thanks to my son Kyle Merker for a discovery that changed things forever!


Lance Merker

Last Updated 12/17/14